Friday, May 26, 2017

fort god dropped

"Help me down Uncle Karl," he asked.

His flip flop had caught in the crux of the tree where he was standing. I pulled free the pinched sandal and slipped it on his extended foot. Once on the ground and free from my arms, he already had the redbud sized up. His young hands tight around the narrow limbs, muscles tugged and hoisted up legs and feet as he had before. He appealed and I lifted him down a second time to the ground. Flip flops were stuck in the crux.

His aunt Jan Jan suggested he try a young maple in the backyard. Our great-nephew found more room this time and was able to lean his back against the ascending trunk. 

When I was in grade school, my parents had let me climb the oak tree in our yard. I discovered back then there was nothing like being up in a tree, confident, knowing how to go up and down the ladder-like branches. To feel the drift and sway of branches in the breeze. I felt this boy lacked that joy, a cautious parent kept him indoor too much, he was not given free reign to make forts for himself. 

In contrast, I thought of the boyhood activities two brothers did in a Carl Sandburg story:

"They went barefooted and got stickers in their hair and teased cats and killed snakes and climbed apple trees and threw clubs up walnut trees and chewed slippery ellum. They stubbed their toes and cut their feet on broken bottles and went swimming in brickyard ponds and came home with their backs sunburnt so the skin peeled off."  from How Googler and Gaggler Came Home with Monkey Wrenches, Carl Sandburg

THAT NIGHT, after the nephew returned home, the WILD WINDS took down three trees in our side yard. Double click to see images bigger.

The redbud where he had stood earlier that afternoon split under the weight of the bigger tree.

The next morning, I surveyed the mess. Protected by the long sleeves and jeans, work boots, gloves and face mask, I cleared limbs with my hand saw. Out of curiosity I waded head down past the leaves and into the middle of it all. More limbs came down. I cleared a space between the two trunks. It reminded me of forts I had built. That feeling of being hidden from view. That was when THE  IDEA came to me.

Three minutes. Horizontal trunks to climb on. God had dropped these trees in our yard to become an outdoor fort.

Over the next few days I loaded the truck, and hauled debris out to the city burn pile. I carried short stump trunks into the fort space. I climbed up on the lower branches to see if they would support my weight and support his weight. They did. When a week had passed, the boy was able to be with us again all day. Instead of flimsy flip flops, he had strong sneakers on his feet.

The morning started cold. He and I played the matching color matching number game UNO and the Aggravation marble board game until it had warmed up outside. What would he think about the fort? How would he respond? 

He made my day!!!!

"There's the window, there's the back door, there's a room," when he first saw it. He wanted to make walls. Hoped to knock down a broken limb, he whacked it with a stick. He walked on top of the trunk to the uprooted end and peered over the pond water and the duckweed. "There is water below me. I see two frogs," he said. He told me he was a gorilla.

One minute. His souvenirs. 

He was a fort builder after all. "I built this fortress," he said when he was all finished. He called it "The Fortress of the Egyptian Gorilla."

Him, arms clasping a stump trunk to his chest, waddling away. Returning for the next stump. All four ending up where he wanted them to be. "Go find them Uncle Karl."

He selected a wiggly shaped log with spike knobs, where the branches used to jut out. Talked his uncle into helping move the back end of the wonky dead trunk as he managed the front end. I called the log "the prehistoric petrified eel." He made the "pretend eel" a bridge he walked on up to a higher branch.

Beforehand I had made a wide north entrance for him to use. That day he took liberty to hide the entrance with branches from the debris pile. To reach the inner room, he explained... "you had to go in the back door and open the front door. Because the front was hidden to outsiders. Camouflage."


The boy delighted. Singing to himself.

Three minutes. Him fitting branches in place.

Working up a sweat. Making it work.
I was so proud of him.

Thank you god for the fort you
dropped in our yard !!!!!!!

Two minutes. Parting shot. Stump trunks revealed.

Monday, May 22, 2017

turns reading aloud

The day came.

After waiting two weeks for the right moment, it was my turn to watch the boy after school got out. The book lay on the seat beside him in the pickup. It was raining out. I watched as he first picked up the book and thumbed through its pages. He read silently to himself.
We came into agreement.
He would read one sentence aloud and I would read the next. And so on, taking turns, sharing the story. Listening to the sound and shape of the words and imagining the characters we were fond of.

 A while ago, my wife recalled, back when we were dating, I had found a vinyl record at Link Library at Concordia University in Seward. I was attracted to the rich grandfatherly voice of Carl Sandburg as he read his Rootabagga Stories. The stories were transferred to a cassette tape of mine. And last year my great-nephew enjoyed the audio stories on tape at his house. That day he and I were drawing doodles on paper at their dining room table. Hatrack the Horse was telling the night policeman in the Village of Cream Puffs about the Three Wild Babylonian Baboons.
"Soon the baboons, all hairy all over, bangs down their foreheads, came sneaking through the door. Just as they were sneaking through the door they took off their hats to show they were getting ready to sneak through the house........The last he saw of them they were walking away in the rain eating bread and butter. And they took off their hats so the rain ran down and slid on the bangs of their foreheads." Carl Sandburg

Word had come to me that my great-nephew had been talking to his GG about wanting to HEAR that baboon story again. His grandmother mentioned it to her sister (my wife) and I heard of his renewed interest. That was when I ordered the book through our local Carrollton library.

The second grader was surprised that I had to WAIT a whole week for the book to arrive. He asked me where CARTHAGE was. The book was on-loan from the Carthage Public Library. It was a city near the bottom on our state of Missouri, I replied.

What astonished me was that there were OTHER tales in the book that were not on the vinyl record. More stories with new titles to explore.

When we got home to the yellow house with dark green shutters, he and I read one of these. One we had not heard of before. "Many, Many Weddings in One Corner House." "... bug games bugs-up, bugs-down, run-bugs-run, or beans-bugs-beans."

I was so glad this opportunity was fulfilled. WE  DID IT and the idea worked.

The boy told me he scored high on the reading chart in his class. Great. Here are two audio files I found on Youtube. Both stories are on my cassette tape.

Four minutes. Carl Sandburg reads aloud. (courtesy of Youtube,, accessed May 26, 2017)

Seven minutes. A second story from that audio file.
(courtesy of, accessed May 26, 2017)

Rootabagga Stories

- + - + - = - + - = +

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

handrail to daily nebraskan

With the delivery done I walked the length of the campus to the student union.

I felt out of place. There were thirty- eight years of change.

Out in front
the water fountain 
with jutting slabs of rock 
were alien to me. 
Just like the movie Back To The Future
Sigh. Being an alumnus....

Now that I have seen 
and it should look familiar 
when I come back. Ha.

The Nebraska bookstore was still inside. There were no food courts when I was a student. You ate at a dorm cafeteria or off campus restaurants. That said, I enjoyed having a Valentino's lunch.  

On the north end of the Nebraska Union were the granite steps I remember from years ago. A brass handrail led me down to the basement and the vacated office sprawl of the Daily Nebraskan newspaper.

Fluorescent lights blared. Desk stations were devoid of journalist students. It was the silence of summer break. I waited, listening. A wee distant voice drew me across the place I once knew.

Last man to stay behind, general manager Dan Shattil waved me into his office. 

Black hair combed to the side, glasses, and knowing eyes, yes, he remembered Amy Lenzen, the editor I worked for in 1979. There used to be a photo and plaque that hung on the awards wall, he said, that honored her leadership. Today that plaque was absent, others in its place.

Back then I lived at Abel Hall on campus, I told Shattil. Beginning in September Lenzen printed my cartoons in her paper. Students called it the campus rag. 


Original artwork from my scrapbook. Published Thursday, October 25, 1979 issue. Double click to enlarge.

Friday, September 7, 1979 issue

Wednesday, September 19, 1979 issue

October 31, 1979 issue

My parents recycled paper and aluminum cans. My mother followed the Bottle Bill legislation. In October of 1978 I did an editorial cartoon for my hometown paper the Seward County Independent.

The Daily Nebraskan ran the Bottle Bill issue in September of 1979.

The State Fair was then held in Lincoln, Nebraska. September 6, 1979 issue


After I graduated from the University of Nebraska, I lived in Seward, Nebraska. The 11 pm to 7 am Pinkerton security guard shift  paid my bachelor bills.

Self-employed art came out of my bachelor apartment, aptly called Studio Four. My cat cartoon hung by the front door. Book cover and bio page from self-published book, Seward Drawings: a beginning.

The work I did for the Daily Nebraskan helped open the door to do editorial cartoons for my hometown paper. The managers Dennis and Charlene Behrens agreed to pay me eight dollars for each cartoon which appeared in print. The paper came out once a week. My cartoons ran August 1980 to June 1983.

September 21, 1981 issue

 June 15, 1981 issue
That one shows my whole family. My father, mother, me, and my brother.

#  #  #  #
Back to the present. I thanked Dan Shattil for being around. He told me the paper was coming out next semester on-line only, no more paper and ink. 


Monday, May 15, 2017

shale wall at bluff creek

Behind Richard Hall with the meter running, a curly headed guy and gal with long hair were trying to load a huge stretched canvas into a much smaller station wagon. An end-of-the-semester dilemma art students can face. Typical. When I passed by next time, the guy had returned with a long cord. Whether he was going to strap the canvas to the outside roof of the vehicle was not clear.

Shale Wall at Bluff Creek 30 by 40 inches, plein air acrylic on canvas. On the back are the notations: "1:00 - 3:00 pm 3:30 - 4:30 pm"

I had driven up to Lincoln in my car to hand deliver my piece. The office had many works still in crates and packed in cardboard. Staff advisor Christy Aggens signed my paperwork. I don't remember who were my classmates when I took ceramics, painting, and printmaking my last year of college. The name Susan Pueltz looked familiar. And I believe Karen Kunc was in the same class I had with Michael Nushawg for printmaking. The Art Department invited art graduates from 1979 to 1982 to take part. The works are currently up in the Eisentrager-Howard Gallery over the summer, June, July. I plan to come up to meet classmates on the final night of the show, Friday, August 4th, three days after my 62nd birthday. The closing reception will be at  5 - 7 pm. 
In the meantime, I was going to look around the campus. The flatness had been changed up in a good way. More earth mounds, more leafy canopies, more sculptures.