Saturday, August 9, 2008

Beijing and interlude

Pickerel Lake, Barnes, Wisconsin

The month of July refuses to linger.

I have noticed this for several years. Whether it is a function of one’s psychology or a law of time and physics, once the 4th of July arrives summer flashes past until the dog days of August have formed up on the horizon.

This is a good time of year to make an appearance in Northwestern Wisconsin. Although the roads leading north out of Minneapolis remain well traveled on Friday afternoons, the environs of the Eau Claire Chain of Lakes enjoy a brief respite from the arrivals and departures of the high season. All the cabins on the lake are quiet this weekend. Even the frogs have delayed their nightlong, rhythmic vocals until a later starting time.

Temperatures are cooler than normal, with a high yesterday of 78 and an overnight low of 47.

While Pickerel Lake is not connected to the 11 lakes in the Eau Claire Chain, it is part of 10,000 acres of spring-fed, clear waters that form the headwaters of the Eau Claire River. The area is bordered by Barnes on the northeast, Gordon on the southwest, and divided by Highway 27. Barnes is located in Bayfield County, 20 miles north of Hayward, the former logging town, and roughly an hour southwest of Ashland, Wisconsin, and southeast of Duluth, Minnesota. The Chequamegon [shuh–WAH–muh–gun] National Forest and the towns of the Chippewa Flowage are nearby.

I have visited here regularly since meeting James Davies 25 years ago. He was born in Ashland and his forbears founded The Daily Press there in the 19th century. Save for Barnes, his family has all passed from the area. For the last dozen years, one of my siblings has lived in Ashland with her family. An old friend, Jon, who lives in Chicago, is in the process of clearing land near Brule with his partner.

The Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend. The four-day event will feature 37 music acts on Lake Superior’s waterfront and is expected to draw nearly 30,000 people. For those who prefer to savor the blues inside and at night, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys played last night at the Horseshoe Billiards in Duluth, and will perform tonight at the Fortune Bay Casino in Tower.

Ship traffic in the harbor was light yesterday, with no activity at the Superior entry. The Duluth and Two Harbors entries saw the loading and unloading of coal, limestone, and iron ore pellets.

A couple days ago, I opined on Obama’s website that his campaign was flirting with throwing away a sure thing in November unless it started acting like it wanted to win. I read yesterday that it had started a new radio ad in Ohio doing just that. Also, as I recommended, several people saw the movie Mamma Mia! and told me they liked it. I always enjoy it when my advice is heard and followed.

In last weekend’s repeat broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor’s report from Lake Wobegon concluded by observing that when one walks around holding a quarter in one’s butt, you can’t think of anything else. You had to hear it, but the hilarity of the story should have made everyone relax and let go of anything they were carrying.

I diced celery, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and mushrooms to scramble with eggs for breakfast this morning. Since early May, we have adopted the South Beach Diet and abandoned our longstanding weekend tradition of consuming waffles, fruit, sausage, juice, and coffee. I am down 25 pounds so far, halfway to my goal.

The Summer Olympics opened in Beijing yesterday with stunning ceremonies. I am happy for all of us that China was able to present such impressive images to itself and the world. It is one of many needed developments that will hasten the day when it adapts more fully to the higher angels of its nature, the pursuit of freedom, and the rule of law in its dealings with its people and the world. (At the end of most days, I remain an optimist.)

President Bush (43) attended the ceremonies accompanied by President Bush (41), a former ambassador to China. It was an action that many, including other heads of state, urged him not to take. Before entering the country, 43 criticized China’s human rights record, albeit with tarnished moral authority.

Since March, Tibet has remained off-limits to foreign reporters. CNN remains in the Chinese doghouse because of comments made by Jack Cafferty. Internet censorship remains in effect throughout China. Annual deaths from air pollution remain near 300,000 and there is lead paint in children’s toys. We can condemn all of it. We can isolate the country and refuse to deal with it. We can declare war. Or, we can seek various levels of engagement.

Sometimes, as post-9/11 in Afghanistan, there is no choice but to fight. Earlier, however, President Reagan met President Gorbachev in Reykjavik and, later, told him in front of the world to tear down the Berlin Wall.

It is a tedious business, the tending of relations between nations. So, too, are the encounters among people on our streets.

A year ago, one of our Minneapolis freeway bridges crashed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring more. A replacement bridge has been constructed in record time by Flatiron Construction Corp. and will open next month.

Early this week, Karl Aarsheim, a straight man, and his wife, Nikki, left a gay bar near the bridge construction site after visiting with a friend. Three men, workers on the bridge crew, attacked the man because he “looked gay,” and kicked him in the head. Two have been fired and one – Otto Marin – faces misdemeanor criminal charges. Do we condemn? Yes. Do we isolate and exile? Perhaps. Do we declare war, and execute? Hmm – what would you do, if you had been attacked? Do we engage? You know, this is a lot of thought right now –––

Unbelievable! I just took a moment to look at a piece of email news from Todd Bachman, the CEO of Bachman's garden centers in Minnesota, and his wife, Barbara, were attacked by knife today at a tourist spot in downtown Beijing. Todd is dead. Barbara has had surgery for life-threatening injuries. The attacker, described as a deranged man, jumped to his own death.

I worked for the Bachman family for two years in Minneapolis more than a decade ago.

The sun is warm and bright. A cool breeze is rippling across the lake and through the trees. I need to go shed a tear.

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