Saturday, January 03, 2009


... of comma proliferation.

Yeah, sure, you don't hear much about it. But people like me live with it every day. It starts small; maybe with a pause in thought, a consideration of another idea--then the period arrives and it's all forgotten. Until the next sentence, and the next, and you find yourself with commas caught in your teeth trying to read through to the end.

A dash, an ellipsis, a semi-colon--these all help in the subtleties of punctuation; but those commas still have a way of splitting like amoebas--two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, one-hundred-twenty-eight--in the blink of an eye. Trying to remove the bad commas is like trying to remove only the orange thread from my plaid socks. Have you ever tried to do that? I always end up ruining the entire sock. Every single time.

Or I could just leave them all in--and maybe just occasionally stomp on a weaker, embryonic comma, letting it die and fall away; then, if it survives, watch it cling intractably to my essay as it sticks out its little comma tongue and sneers, "Wadda ya gonna do now, chump?"

In the wake of a nuclear blast, commas will live merrily on, while the rest of us have been blown to smithereens.

Commas--the pot-holes of the english language.

Of course, I could omit them entirely--along with all other punctuation, capitalization, rules of sentence structure; and I could write some really modern-looking stuff--or something that looked modern forty years ago and, fortunately, never caught on.

But I don't think that way. My thinking--at least when I attempt to convey it to others--has capitalization, some comprehensible rules of structure, and punctuation. This includes commas. The garden of my mind is full of commas. I've tried aggressive raking and weed-killer, but this only succeeded in suppressing the flowers and vegetables. You'll just have to tolerate the occasional useless comma if you want anything good out of me at all.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I'm mostly a steady, law-abiding guy. Never been to prison, never even come close. I'm one of the few out there driving a vehicle who actually pay attention to those signs on the side of the road. You know -- those signs with the numbers? "Speed limits," I think they're called. I'm just not a wild and crazy guy.

Aging can certainly have a mellowing effect, but really, I've just never been one of those guys who needs to find out how far he can stretch the law before it snaps. It just doesn't give me a thrill.

I do, however, seem to have a capacity for a rather scary level of intensity. Recently I looked at a photo of myself from freshman year of high school -- a cross-country team photo. I couldn't help but notice the quiet intensity in the eyes of that scrawny kid. It was as if, sitting too long in one place, I just might burn a hole through the mantle of the earth. With that capability I'd make a splendid arch-criminal. But that would be rude and I don't like being rude.

Still, some things do stir me deeply and, where some would cross the line, I go and jump the fence.

Waves do that to me. I simply love to paddle in them. Sometimes -- as in Dick Silberman's photo above -- they are a manageable challenge; other times they're just too much. On those really big days, while some twenty-mile-per-hour-over-the-speed-limit-driver would look at the waves and say "Whoa!" -- I'd calmly and intently think, "I'm going in."

While amid them I'd notice my knees literally shaking, and after a brief glorious display of my talent, I'd find my ego and I, dumped and pummeled on the beach.

The waves are sending me a message, it seems. We have that special line of communication -- not entirely reliable, but eventually something gets through to me. And I accept that sometimes I just need to stay on shore and admire from a safe distance. Sometimes I need to be just a fan.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


... in the wide open spaces on the eastern edge of metropolitan Milwaukee. On this particular day in November, there was no escaping it. We were three -- Doug, Sherri and I -- and gray was all around us. All hint of summer was long blown away by the cold wind; and in the void of summer gone comes the sense of foreboding and something forbidden. All is more serious. So many things can hurt you.

In the summertime lake -- at least in my all too wild imagination -- I see more color, hear gentle sounds, and feel a general sense of lightness in the water and in the air. But with November come more days of gray, and one doesn't even think to go looking for gentleness.

The summertime lake is like a grand benevolent kindergarten teacher, cheerfuly maintaining a graceful order, seeing to it that all -- all the sailboats, fishermen, and kayaks -- are happy and courteous. Everywhere is finger-painting and children's chatter. But by November, the kindergarten teacher is long gone, and in her place is a hard-drinking, unemployed, ne'er-do-well brother-in-law. With him, you step carefully, come well prepared and expect the worst.

On this day, Doug, Sherri and I had the lake almost to ourselves. To the south, along the breakwall, there were a few duckhunters on the water. In the main harbor, near the USS Freedom, there were several small nimble law-enforcement boats skittering about, maintaining a protective perimeter around the newly commissioned warship.

That is to say, except for Doug, Sherri and I, everyone out there was well-armed and on a mission. This is the lake in November.

On this day the waves were moderate -- some over our heads, but not too steep nor with much spilling -- easily manageable by skilled, experienced paddlers. Yet there's enough power in each wave to not let us forget that the lake could let loose with one itty-bitty "ka-CHOO!" and we'd all be scrambling to stay upright. On days like this you cut the nonsense and leave it onshore. That's one of the things I love about late autumn paddling -- being out there in the wilds of metropolitan Milwaukee with two friends whose skills I know and trust, and who feel the same way about me. On this particular day, there was no better place to be.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I Still Miss Ireland

I miss the green rolling hills, the narrow country lanes with stone houses well weathered, yet looking good and hundreds of years older than anything here. I miss the flowing gorgeous language spoken in the streets and in the pubs. I miss it dearly. It feels like home, the place I love, where I belong.

Of course, I've never actually been there.

My blood has, certainly. Going by my last name or my looks, one might never guess that I am Irish. Many suspect German, possibly because of my general inclination toward clinical severity and robotic efficiency -- oops, have I just stereotyped all you Germans out there? Sorry. I've done worse. Probably will again, though I'll try not to. Anyway...

I remember there were times as a teenager that I imagined I must have some Jewish ancestry somewhere back there; but alas, in that regard I finally realized I was no more than a pathetic wannabe. I'm not German. I'm not Jewish. My father's name, I'd been told, is Slovak. A few years ago someone told my father that the name is possibly Bohemian. I'm guessing there was a bit of border crossing going on, resulting in a fair degree of ethnic ambiguity.

So what am I? My sarcastic response is "Earth Creature." Then there is "Tool-Using Hominid," and the rambling "I'm Unique, Like Everyone Else."

But when pressed for a serious answer, there is no doubt. I am an Irish American. A Catholic Irish American -- not that there is anything wrong with them thar Protestants, or that I'm such a good Catholic; but as an ethnic designation, that is what I am. In my blood and in my soul I am Irish, and I can't help but love and miss my home island. And to those of you reading this who have actually lived their entire lives in Ireland and are rolling your eyes in reaction to my tedious bloviation, I hope you'll find it in your heart to get over it already. I'm Irish. I can't change that and I don't want to. My mother always drove that fact into my siblings and me, but she didn't need to. I can't help but be Irish, I can't help but know it and I can't help but love Ireland. That love does not fade. I may never visit, but I will always miss Ireland.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Out of My Head

...and into a heap of sawdust on the workshop floor. So goes my next kayak building project.

The Petrel, designed by Nick Schade of Guillemot Kayaks in Connecticut, is being lovingly built for my wife, Jennifer. Clearly she is much too petite for the first kayak I built her.

Sawdust production is probably my least favorite part of the project. I've read that there is actually an increasing demand for sawdust, which is used in particle board, fuel "logs," and such. The price being paid for a ton of sawdust is now $50US. I haven't quite got a ton of it here -- or maybe I do.

There it is, the kayak. Can't you see it? I can.

...okay, maybe it still needs a little shaping. All the strips are there, though -- and then some. Butternut, Aspen, Black Walnut, and Purpleheart.

After setting up the forms, the hull begins to take shape. I tend to fuss and wrestle with every strip -- "not good enough, not good enough, not good enough... that's it, I've had it with this one. Good enough already."

It ain't pretty.

But it will be.

Not perfect,

just beautiful. I'll have to settle for that.

Our local kayak building inspectors are not terribly impressed, however -- with neither the quantity, nor the quality of work done so far.

But they never complain about the mess. I'm grateful for that.

Uh-oh, power tool about to be used. To the Kitty Escape Hatch! Head to high ground! Go! Go! Go! Go!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What the world needs now
is another kayak blogger
like I need
a hole in
my head

Still, here it comes...
Coming soon...
Not yet, but soon...
I've got a digital camera and everything now, so...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Adventure kayaking. That's been a hot topic since the recent presumed death of Andrew McCauley, in his attempt to paddle from Austrailia to New Zealand. I was vaguely aware of the attempt, the information of it forming some kind of background noise in my consciousness. Which gives an indication of my general lack of enthusiasm for grand expeditions, epic attempts, daring adventures and all that. Not that I glare down on it with dissapproval. I'm not one of those who would judge that these adventurers are merely selfish glory hounds, too self-absorbed to care about what effect their indulgence may have on those who depend on them. I make no effort at all to easily maintain that as none of my business. It's just that it doesn't much inspire me, or even interest me.

I think Derrick Mayoleth said it well by pointing out that some among us are "wired" to do this sort of thing. Not for money, not for the praise of others, but because the grand expedition would sustain one's passion for life; that one may be more fully alive and share this vigor with those around him or her. At least that's how I'm imagining it might be.

But from the perspective of one who has occasionally read an account of such an endeavor, it's usually mostly boring. Paddle for a long time, stop for lunch, then paddle some more, rest for awhile, then paddle again, then sleep. Wake up the next day, do it again. Actually, it sounds pretty good, if I'm the one doing it, but my attention tends to wander during the reading of it.

Yet many people love this stuff and want to hear all about it, and follow along with the progress of it, if at all possible.

This post is running aground, but I'm going to publish it anyway, if only to inspire me to do something better. People tend to do what they want or what they need to do, and fortunately, it's mostly good or harmless. There's a nice nugget of kitsch wisdom.

Till later...