Thich Quang Duc and Wynn Alan Bruce

Most people my age and older have some knowledge of, and may have the image (above) seared into their mind of when Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, set himself on fire to protest the police and Vietnamese army’s massacre of Vietnamese people during a celebration that turned into a protest. At the time Vietnam was 90% Buddhist but the current ruler, Ngo Dinh Diem, was Catholic and wanted to “westernize” the nation and so banned the display of religious flags. On May 8, 1963, they celebrated Phat Dan, or the day of the birth of the Buddha, religious flags were displayed, and the massacre ensued. A month later, on June 11, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who was not at the massacre, sat down in the middle of the same street, began meditating, set himself on fire (doused in gasoline) and sat motionless as he burned to death.

An American photographer happened to be on the scent and got the iconic, jaw-dropping photos that exploded across the globe. Thich Nhat Hanh, another Vietnamese buddhist monk, prolific author and teacher, often brought him up in his writings, and while I never committed the man’s name to memory, I never forgot that image since I saw it as a teenager in the 1970s.

Recently, a blip in my online, 24-hour news feed, filled with stories of mass shootings, war in Ukraine, awful American (and worldwide) politicians and people, and the ongoing, ever-expanding destruction of the planet thanks in large part to human-induced burning of fossil fuels, was something about an American who did something similar in Washington DC. I’m appalled and embarrassed how little attention I paid.

Reading the obituaries in the local paper this morning I stopped cold when I saw: “on the steps of the Supreme Courthouse…”

“Bruce, Wynn Alan
Born in Green Bay WI Aug 25, 1971 and died on Earth Day April 22, 2022 on the steps of the Supreme Courthouse in Washington DC. His father, Douglas Bruce (Holly), mother Martha, stepbrother Eric (Jamie), extended family and friends in Minnesota and Boulder, CO and around the country are greatly saddened by his death but respect and honor his commitment to the issues of climate change and the environment.”

Unless you’ve got your head jammed straight up your ass and/or have been fooled by extremely effective but idiotic right wing media, you understand what is happening right now to our climate due to humankind. I’m human and not at all pretending I’ve been doing much myself. In fact, my passion for doing something about this has been washed away, shall we say, having watched the world (and more importantly, individuals like you and me) do absolutely nothing about it.

Scientists have been warning us for decades, and year after year, the climate has been proving them almost exactly right, but to pretty much no avail. So I’m now at this point hopeless we’ll do much about it and wondering what we’ll do about the consequences. How will we handle the flooding of coastal and inland low lying areas? What will we do about the incredible heat waves that will make many places currently filled with humans uninhabitable? How about the massive fires that will only get worse and worse? Who’s going to pay to rebuild after the super storms keep coming and damaging property, farmland, and infrastructure? And in the current pandemic of xenophobia what will we do with the mass migrations due to heat, flooding, fires, storms and water shortages?

Of course, we’re already paying for increasing storm damage, controlling and putting out growing fires, cleaning up and relocating people after massive flooding, but it’s that last one that I really worry about. Here in the U.S. people are filling their pants because there are 60,000 people at the southern border trying to get into our nation of 330 million people. What about when there are 10, 50 or 100 million people clamoring to get in? What big beautiful wall is going to stop them? How about when the entire population of Southwest U.S. starts running north and east? What happens then?

We’ll see. Then, by the way, is only a few decades out, maybe sooner. But here we sit, doing nothing and not even noticing, when Green Bay’s own, Wynn Alan Bruce, sits down in plain view and burns himself to death in an incredibly brave warning to all of us of what’s coming. Blip.

Frankenstein

It’s ten below outside heading toward 20 below. If you’ve not felt that kind of cold, it’s dry; it’s really really dry. Body lotion vanishes like mist in Phoenix. Static electricity loves this kind of dry!

I have to roll up the trash bins so I put on my green puffy down jacket and a wool hat, making sure my headphone cord is on the inside so it doesn’t get caught on anything like the trash bin handles. It’s ten below and that generally means crystal clear. Not a drop of water in that air. There’s a delicate moon, just a sliver, running from 2 to 8 on a clock tip to tip. “You could hang a bucket on that moon,” my grandma Lucia once said about a similar moon at a different time.

It’s beautiful, but it’s also stupid-cold out there so I head back inside. I stop in the entryway and close to door behind me to keep the cold out. I pull off my puffy down jacket. The cord sticks to it and then peels off.

A pack of tiny firecrackers goes off in each ear. Electricity dances between the ear buds and ears. Each feels like one of those electricity balls that makes kids’ hair stand on end when they put their hand on it, but without the glass ball. It hurts! My shirt billows toward the jacket and hangs there for a second . I’m pregnant with static electricity; Marylin Monroe on the sidewalk grate. I shake the sparks from my shirt and throw my crackling hat on the jacket, watching as all around me the energy slowly snaps itself out.

I’ve had more painful shocks from static electricity, but this went on like a fireworks grand finale. I wonder if it’s going to give me any superpowers.

Sticks

Sticks. Sticks. Sticks. Sticks. Sticks. Sticks. Sticks. Sticks. Sticks Sticks Sticks Sticks Sticks Sticks Sticks Sticks SticksSticks SticksSticks SticksSticks SticksSticks SticksSticksSticksSticks SticksSticksSticksSticks sticksstickssticksstickssticksstickssticks

and more fuggin sticks!!!!

I love trees. I’m surrounded by them and that is by design. I cannot be happy unless I spend enough time out in nature – among trees in particular, lakes, the like. This is true of most people. In fact, study after study shows that spending time in green places, rural areas, parks and so on makes you happier. It also makes you healthier and smarter and better looking. I made up the last one, but it still might be true.

In fact, I am blessed with a home that is surrounded by trees. It’s a little oasis and I can only really see a neighbor in one direction – everyone else is behind the trees. The trees range from spindly little invasives to great, towering oaks. I am in awe of the latter. I can sit and take in a tree as I would a lake or the firmament. The complexity of a single tree is beyond our ken, yet we take them so very for granted. It’s just a tree. Bullsticks. They are majestic, powerful and certainly sentient in their own arboreal awareness.

But they drop so many fuggin sticks!! Every morning there are more on my yard; in a week, the yard will be filled with sticks and after a windy day? Forget about it. Sticks everywhere! So I bend and stoop and rake and carry throw and bundle and burn and chop and cut and and kick and curse and bitch at sticks day in and day out. Always. Everywhere. Sticks.

Now multiply that by two as we have a family cabin surrounded by a battalion of trees. I spent the weekend there picking up sticks only to come home to more sticks from Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ignoring the sticks and instead walking the dog I had to look up on the trail as if I looked down, just more sticks. Big sticks, little sticks, twigs, logs, bends, elbows, branches, all jutting out in all three dimensions, some straight and narrow, others like webs or giant insects with legs and antennae tangling themselves with all the other branching, clinging sticks.

My nemesticks.

all quiet on the western front

You know you have those books you were supposed to read but you never did – the great big classics – Moby Dick, anything by Tolstoy, some great early feminist novel, but you never did and while you feel some sort of guilt, you also know that there are a billion books and you cannot be expected to know all of them and if someone wants to call you out on one book then screw ‘em.

That being said, you absolutely HAVE TO READ “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I was obliquely aware of it and especially in the praise of it. I knew it was a “war novel” and while I’ve enjoyed novels with war in them, I was no aficionado. But still it was impressed upon me that this book was IMPORTANT. And it is.

I finally nabbed it from my mother’s bookshelf while we were preparing her move and eventually picked it up to actually read. A slim little book so I figured, might’s well have at it.

This book has changed my life. I think I needed to be transported through amazing language to the dirty, wet, filthy, angry, bloody, stinky, trenches of war. This book does that. And while I know that modern warfare is different, I can only assume that many of the same emotions and fears and bewilderment that Erich Maria Remarque felt are also felt by terribly young, modern soldiers as well. War is war.

It stopped me in my tracks. I always knew war was bad and opposed it mostly as again, a modern, basically aware man, but this flung it all right up into my perfectly safe – thanks to soldiers, and diplomats, and peaceniks, and generally good people – face. I know I can’t know what any soldier in the blaze of war goes through, but this guy gives you a pretty fucking good idea in this book. And to say, it ain’t pretty, would be pantywaist’s clever turn of a phrase. It’s blood ugly.

It shames a person for so many reasons; we’re part of the humanity who creates these situations, we make war. But also because I’ve never had to experience what the soldiers do – not the fucking generals, by the way – but the frontline slugs. I’ve always been basically physically perfectly safe, I’ve never lacked a meal or something to eat, alcohol is always available and affordable. But not for these guys; not at all.

A piece of bread, a sip of cognac is everything. Especially after a day of shelling and explosions, dismemberment and splashing blood, looking into the eye of the man you are about to kill. That’s the cutting edge of life, at its worst.

I read much of this in a comfortable chair overlooking a glistening Lake Superior, safe and sound. But read a book that struck the fear of our manmade devils right into my heart.

 

Oh, Henry!

Everything’s blooming! It’s Minnesota at its – finally – best! We wait through autumn, when we’re not waiting at all, and in fact, wondering expectantly at the big brown die-off, through the darkening fall, then Christmas and New Year’s and a slight warm reprieve from the deepening doldrums, and then the real winter, the one that stays long after its welcome, through February, March, even April, May. This year was brutal on our souls. Brutal and unforgiving, unstoppable. The strongest among us whined like kids kept out of the carnival.

But here it is! Glorious! Yet we always forget. Every year. Holy shit! A flower! Green grass! Like we’ve never seen it before. The soil lets loose its gases, which hop us up like goofballs. The air mists moisture, smells sweet, coats our lungs. The flowers shock and bushes burst. The trees all leafy, some big blooms above, fluttering, breezy, then petals scatter all over the ground. Soft, sweet snowflakes, warm and oily.

It’s just June 2nd. Twenty days to the actual Solstice. So much summer to enjoy! We feel guilty. Haven’t we had enough already? Let’s not get fancy. We’re better than this. Stronger! Forgetting the brutality we’ve just suffered, suddenly so forgiving. It wasn’t that bad, right? I know you’ll do it again, but I forgive you this one time. Because now is good – really, really good.

 

 

Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina

(And how it applies to the Winter Olympic Games)

My younger brother Daniel and I were talking on the phone last night and commenting on the Winter Olympic Games. He said, “The U.S. is kind of sucking this year.” And I said, “Yeah, but doesn’t it blow your mind how many of the athletes are such freaking Hotties?” And he said, “Yeah, and they’re all fucking each other all the time! As soon as they finish their events they go back to the Olympic Village and fuck each other over and over!” He’s right, by the way. I read about that years ago. If you don’t believe it, look it up.

Anyway, when he said that – PING! It popped right back into my head: Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina. I remember the exact day of its origin. Many years ago my two brothers, my sister and I were riding in the back of our parents van and passing through Edina. Edina is a very wealthy suburb of Minneapolis, and at the time, around 1976, it was the quintessential wealthy suburb of Minneapolis. So I looked out the window of the van at a group of girls standing in front of the Edina Theater and said, “Man! Why are there so many hot chicks in Edina?”

My other brother, Jonny Pie, looked up from whatever technical manual he was reading (for fun) and said:

“It’s really quite simple. The fathers in Edina are wealthy men and their wealth gives them certain advantages in picking a mate. One of those is in the looks of the women. In other words, they can choose more beautiful wives – whether they are handsome themselves, or a troll. So it follows that, over time, the prevalence of beautiful children will increase. And it follows then that if the families stay in Edina for generations, the genetic probability for good-looking children continues to increase. Therefore, ergo, you are absolutely right: there are ‘so many hot chicks in Edina’. Simple as that.”

Bam! He knocked that fucker right out of the park! His simple logic stunned my young mind. It was suddenly obvious. Rich men = hot wives = more hot chick babies! Simple as that.

“It’s not the same in Minneapolis where we live,” he added, and we all glanced up to see if Mom and Dad had heard that.

So now I see that Jonny Pie’s Theory can easily be applied to the prevalence of Hotties at the Olympic Games; and it’s not because they are all having sex in the Olympic Village like Daniel was quick to point out, as you might be thinking. That story was actually about all of the condoms that are provided by the US Olympic Committee for all that sex which would, hopefully, avoid any unwanted, albeit off-the-charts cute, babies.

It’s because the Olympic athletes in the winter games are all basically Edina kids. Every last one of them. Yeah, yeah, NBC likes to drag out the one story of the middle class kid from Indiana who mowed lawns to afford to become a snowboard sensation, but seriously, how many lower or middle class families can afford to send their kids to luge camp, or snowboarding school, find them a Romanian skating coach, or buy them a four-man bobsled? None. That’s how many. Most of those families couldn’t afford a day pass at one of the Utah ski areas these actual, and decidedly hirsute, snowboard sensations no doubt basically live in.

You don’t learn how to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever the hell they make up to call that shit, in a few runs. It takes hours, days, months and years, and ain’t no poor kid gonna get that opportunity. No, sir.

So, really, we have Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina, Postulate 1 (As it Applies to the Athletes at the Winter Olympic Games), and it really simply states: There are so many Hotties at the Winter Olympic Games because they are all the offspring of rich parents, therefore, rich kids, ergo genetically predisposed to be Hotties. Rich Parents = Rich Hottie Kids = Kids with the time, money and resources to spend a lifetime learning to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever.

Simple as that.

Minnesotans are beside themselves

Minnesotans take a certain pride in winter. Lesser mortals couldn’t survive here and so we go so far as to sing the praises of blizzards and below zero temperatures. It builds character and culls the herd. Population control. Let the weak leave, and leave the strong behind!

So why then is this particular winter bringing out the mad whiners in so many of us? Everyone is pissed! I went outside one morning recently and saw five inches of new snow, with drifts over my driveway and screamed: #$#@#%!!!!! A neighbor a few doors down thankfully didn’t hear the actual message but only the sound of the shout and turned and waved.

I would argue it’s the worst winter in recent memory. Biggest snowfall? No. Coldest temperatures? No. But a constant onslaught of cold and snow and snow and cold. The best of us are bitching like teenagers forced to stay home, eat only broccoli and do advanced placement homework – every freaking day of the year.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this. Our proud stoicism has frozen to icy anger. We feel let down as if winter had always been this devil to which we’d sold our souls and agreed that you kick our ass some and we’ll stay by you as long as you keep the hoi polloi at bay. But it seems winter has changed the details of our deal. Winter just keeps on kicking and kicking and kicking, and we’re getting a little ticked off – no, a lot ticked off! And the hoi polloi? I’m constantly pushing them out of the driveways they didn’t think to shovel at all.

I used to see a cross-country skier and think, way to go, man! Now I see them and recognize only the stupidity of their actions. You, my friend, are giving in to the enemy. You cannot enjoy this torture! Go home! Drink bourbon in front of a fire and let us plan together our flight to the land of the weaker mortals. We could rule those fools and that simple land! We will never again scrape thick ice from our cars! Never again spin our tires and slip backward on tiny inclines! Never again will we spend untold hours shoveling and shoveling and shoveling, just so someone can walk down our clear sidewalks!

Instead we will sit upon a beach with our toes in the sand, the salt water washing over our feet. That is what we will do! Together! It will be spectacular!!

That is, after tomorrow, after the plows go by and leave a three foot ice wall between our cars and the icy roads. After we take our plastic shovels and slowly chip away at that wall as our fingers devolve to tiny, dying icicles. Right after that! We all leave! Together!

a stump a storm a stone

A Stump

There’s nothing more sad than a stump.
A hole in the sky where once was majesty.
A disk. A flat, ruined, pointless disk.

A Storm

April is the cruelest month
when days in the fifties
are marched back to February
by eagerly unwanted snow.

A Stone

They combed the beach for agates
gathered whatever they found
they named them all agates
then left them on the ground.