News about yesterday’s partial collapse of a six-story apartment building in Davenport, Iowa caused me to have concern about the people affected by the collapse and sparked memories of our road trip last September. As we drove along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway in Davenport, we were surprised to come upon a moored Viking River Cruises ship, disgorging passengers—for a tour of Davenport and environs, I suppose.  It feels a little odd for fond memories to collide with compassion and care; I suppose it’s natural, though. I liked what I saw of Davenport, a town of around 100,000. And, as we ventured north to Decorah, a smaller town that appealed to me even more, I found myself remembering how enamored I had been with Iowa and northern Illinois and Wisconsin when I lived for a few years in Chicago. The stops in small-town Iowa and, later, the drive through western and central Wisconsin, rekindled my deep appreciation for that part of the country. As we made our way from the mid-west to New York State, my love of road trips continued to intensify. I discovered that, if my immediate reaction to places along the way was any indication, I could happily settle—at least during spring, summer, and fall—in the north-central and north-eastern tier of states. The look and feel of that part of the country is somehow radically different from the south and southwest and west coast, though I would be hard-pressed to express just how the regions are so different…without going into excruciating detail that might initially seem irrelevant. I loved living in Chicago, though I cannot say I ever felt completely “at home” there. But I was happy to live in Chicago with my late wife and to spend weekends exploring the rural countryside west, north, and east of the city. I miss that time of my life. But I know “you can never go ‘home’ again,” even when you never felt that anywhere was truly ‘home.’

I sometimes find myself pitying people who never wandered more than a very short distance from their birthplace. But, then, I think those people may have a far better, deeper, and more accurate sense of “home” than I could ever hope to have. Hmmm.


I woke, sometime before 4 this morning, to the sound of Phaedra meowing at the foot of the bed. She yowled as I went to pee and the noise continued as I went into the closet to throw on a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. She followed me into the kitchen, the volume of her howling growing with every step. I tricked her into going into the laundry room, when I closed the door and left her complaining as I went back to the kitchen. I took my morning pills, checked my blood sugar, prepared the cat’s early breakfast, and made coffee. Soon after I left her with her bowl of food, she came looking for me in my study. I assume she had already finished eating. When I refused to devote my undivided attention to her, she left my office in a huff and deposited herself on the front entry mat, just outside my study door. And there she sleeps, even now; sated and angry and apparently ready for her postprandial nap. Before Phaedra, my morning preparations took far less time; back then, I slipped into the kitchen, quickly did my healthcare monitoring duties, and headed to my study. Ten minutes, tops. Nowadays, though, even when I trick the feline into staying out of my way by locking her in the laundry room while I prepare her food, what used to take ten minutes takes at least fifteen…more likely, close to twenty or twenty-five. Getting up by 4 is no longer quite as early as it once was because Phaedra demands my focus and distracts me from giving my undivided attention to my coveted morning routine. I willingly give in to Phaedra’s demands, though, despite feeling annoyed sometimes by her insistence that I give myself over to her whims.


Later, after I have embraced the morning light (now appearing outside my window) and have otherwise grown accustomed to the start of the day, I will change into “work” clothes and go about finally doing some touch-up painting around the house, along with a few other long-delayed chores. “Work” clothes—shirts and pants and sneakers that will be undamaged if subjected to paint, dirt, sweat, and other forms of wardrobe punishment—put me at ease. I am always a little anxious while wearing clothes that could be ruined simply by accompanying me as I experience a normal day. I feel more at ease in clean “rags” than in freshly-pressed shirts, slacks, and polished shoes. That is not to say I do not enjoy getting “dressed up” from time to time. But that enjoyment is purposely kept to a minimum.


To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~


“...simply not to allow yourself to get lost…” That seems such a dismissive way of looking at how to avoid allowing regrets to commandeer one’s emotions. If it were “simple,” regrets would not be so damn difficult to overcome or set aside. Yet the advice given by Thich Nhat Hanh is probably solid. It is just not as easy as he made it sound. An impartial “object of inquiry” does not soften memories of the past, nor does it provide forgiveness for one’s acts or omissions. That is up to oneself to do on one’s own terms. A dispassionate, rather sterile personal assessment may give a person insights into himself, but it does not necessarily provide a “cure.” My skepticism notwithstanding, Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice deserves attention and observation and, whenever possible, adoption. If nothing else, it may suggest pathways that may be invisible without that mindful concentration.


I have never been to Washington Island, Wisconsin. In fact, I am not sure I knew much—if anything—about the place until this morning. My brief exploration of the place has convinced me that I might enjoy having a look around, though. Once there (by way of car ferry), there appears to be quite a bit to explore, from lavender farms to restaurants to Stavkirke, described as “more than a beautifully designed and expertly crafted Norwegian church in the woods of Washington Island. It’s a tribute to a people, to a heritage, to a way of life that, though waning in the modern age, persists in small pockets all across rural America.” Well that sounds appealing. And there’s more. But one of the most appealing aspects of Washington Island is that it is home to only about 600 people. Yet those few hundred people must host hundreds and  hundreds of tourists to support restaurants, pubs, and more.


Phaedra just succeeded in breaking my new and rather expensive stapler. She jumped on top of my two-drawer file cabinet, with the intent of jumping behind it. I grabbed her just in time, but she fought me and, in the process, knocked the stapler sitting atop the cabinet to the floor. A spring is now missing…possibly on the floor…but the likelihood of finding it is slim, thanks to its small size. Even if I find it, I will have no idea how to reattach it to the stapler to make the thing work. I am giving thought to how to skin, filet, and feed Phaedra to the local population of hawks, coyotes, foxes, and such. Grrr! With that, I am finished with today’s blog. Phaedra’s curiosity seems to have killed my interest in touch-up painting. Damn it!

Just as I was beginning to give more credence to the lessons I have been trying to learn this morning…

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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