In The Shadows

Should you find yourself driving about in Southwest Minnesota, you might elect to follow one of the smooth, paved roads that snakes along the Minnesota River until it suddenly turns into a gravel road deep in the trees that remain near the river; at that point you might find a country house a couple of hundred yards down the gravel road just off to the right with a large black dog cavorting about the front yard. The owner of that house loves that dog, his seclusion, his wife and family (especially his tiny granddaughter in far-off Chicago), his university’s volleyball team, many (not all) of his students, and the writers he has chosen over the years to support in so many ways.

I don’t usually write blog posts about personal matters, much less about my friends. In general, I avoid the personal out of an acquired preference for the ideational, the abstract and general. At present, however, I choose to write about a good friend of mine who is watching his dog Harley chase a rabbit.

His name is Dave and he teaches at the university about thirty miles South of his home near the river in a department of English that is slowly dying a painful death as are so many English departments in universities and colleges around this wonderful country of ours. Like the other Humanities programs in the university it is giving way before the onslaught of the bean-counters who prefer to fund more “marketable” programs of study that will prepare young people for the work force so they can be successful in the only sense of that word Americans recognize.

Dave does love his sports and is an avid supporter of the university’s volleyball team, one of the very best in the entire country as it happens, despite the fact that the university itself is a tiny spot in the vast ocean of collegiate athletics and is virtually unknown. I know whereof I speak because I once coached women’s tennis at the university and despite our success as one of the better teams in the country within a couple of years of my retirement we were almost totally forgotten. Well, that’s not entirely true, because Dana, another good friend of mine, a former sports reporter and then editor of the Marshall Independent, wrote a book about the university’s tennis team in those glory days and Dave had it published.

And this brings us to that most remarkable feature of Dave’s activities. Not only does he teach at the university, support its women’s sports teams, and watch with an ache in his heart as his formerly vibrant academic department dwindles away, he also publishes books. This reflects his love of reading and his high regard for those who write, which should also include Dave himself except that he is not given to self-promotion (unlike so many his contemporaries) and prefers to keep his candle hidden under a bushel. As an author he has written a great many books of both prose and poetry and as a publisher he has published a number of important writers and was, indeed, the first to publish the writings of Bill Holm — a man who acquired a national and even an international reputation before his untimely death not long ago. Dave cannot for the life of him market the books he publishes successfully as he tends to ignore that aspect of the publishing trade. He’s no businessman, and I say that with affection. So the books pile up in cupboards, empty rooms, and empty buildings here and there about his place. But he does pride himself on the quality of the work he has published and well he should.

Sad though it is, it bears mentioning that his prowess both and an author and as a publisher of important literary works is almost totally ignored by those around him — including those at the university where he works among the bean-counters. Like other similar institutions of “higher learning,” the university is caught up in the numbers game, watching the bottom line, waiting for it to come to life or at least show a pulse. It has no time for recognition of those who deserve to be recognized and even lauded.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that a man who loves words and is very good with them is ignored by those around him in their preoccupation with the business at hand — whatever that happens to be. In any event, he deserves to be applauded for the things he does, for supporting promising writers, for his love of teaching, and for his staunch support for the women’s teams at his university who hear him shout out from the stands, often nearly empty when the hapless women’s basketball team is playing, willing them on to better days — and bringing them shiny medals from Mongolia or Germany when they win.

So I felt it worth taking a few minutes to write about my friend whom I meet with once a week, when we can, to “vent,” share points of view, and have a drink or two at the local public house. Exceptional people deserve to be recognized even when they choose to hide in the shadows.

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Breathtaking Sight

I live in a part of the world that not many would call beautiful. However, on all sides of us we see sweeping plains and skies that are a kaleidoscope of colors that at times simply take your breath away. We awake early and have seen sun rises that are beyond description and no picture could possibly do justice. Within a few miles North or South, driving through scattered farms and rolling hills, we can find river valleys with gently flowing water and woods filled with wildlife. Not far North of us is the Minnesota River Valley which we visit with come regularity. We have seen a great many deer, beaver, eagles and other bird life in that valley, including pileated woodpeckers and wild turkeys, and my wife, who is a devoted bird watcher, is always alert to the smallest movement. I have learned to stop the car quickly and reach for the binoculars.

Color Me White!(Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Color Me White!
(Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Two years ago this month we saw a sight that I expect very few people have ever seen. We were driving in the Minnesota River valley on a cold March day with glistening white hoar-frost on the twigs and branches of every tree set against the bluest of clear, Canadian skies. I was suddenly told to stop the car as my wife had seen something in the sky above us. I stopped and we got out and looked upwards. There floating above us was a pure white eagle. If I had identified it I would have guessed an egret, but my wife assured me it was the wrong shape and also it couldn’t be an egret at that time of the year; we got a good, long look at the bird through the binoculars and it was indeed an eagle. It was impossible to tell whether it was a golden eagle or a bald eagle because it had no colors except the whiteness all over. But since golden eagles are rare in these parts and we see a great many bald eagles, we supposed that is what we were looking at — probably an albino bald eagle. And he simply floated there above our heads — either looking for a thermal of just showing off. We watched him until our necks ached and he finally flew away along the river — toward the Native American community that lives in that region. Perhaps he was going to visit his friends. But in the meantime he had given us the thrill of a lifetime and we regarded it as a very good omen. We all live in a beautiful world, wherever we happen to reside, and it behooves us to stop and look around (or up!) from time to time. You never know, you might have a moment like that one: one you will never forget.