Superior Moon

by wjw on July 29, 2015

superiormoonHere we view Lake Superior beneath a (nearly) full moon.  The first part of my road trip was full of frenzied travel, the second filled with visits to relatives, and now I’m on my own and kicking back.  I’ve rented a one-bedroom “condo” with a kitchen, and tonight I roasted myself a chicken, ate it with a tossed salad and some pasta, and stared out the door at the lake till the sun went down.  I expect the leftovers will last me several days.

I also went for a trail hike today— the first real exercise since I left home— and scheduled a massage for tomorrow (because all that driving is bad for me), and bought some wine I haven’t opened yet.

All my problems seem rather distant.

Except that I just got kicked out of the sauna for being there after hours.  I don’t remember this from my childhood!

It was great fun reconnecting to my relatives, though it required a bit of mental adjustment to properly absorb the fact that the people I remember as a cloud of hyperactive children are all grandparents now.  (I, however, remain young.)

(Though if I finally grow old, I’ll have to poach someone else’s grandkid to look after me.  Shouldn’t be hard— I will tempt them with literature!)

The North Shore remains as lovely as ever— I’m on a 30,000-foot-deep slab of billion-year old lava, subsequently scraped to the bedrock by a mile-thick glacier— and the result of all these titanic catastrophes is a jagged coastline of red basalt cliffs plunging into a debris-stewn inland sea.  Sort of like Cornwall, but with a Finnish accent.

As a child I spent many hours along the shore of Superior, and I still feel its pull.  I remember perching on one of those cliffs, and fantasizing that I might be the natural son of Poseidon, and that if I leapt off the cliff right now, my divine father might rise from the deep and claim me.

I did not jump off the cliff, and subsequently Rick Riordan adopted my childhood fantasy to write the Percy Jackson books and make a zillion dollars.  Never let it be said that this sort of juvenile self-mythologizing doesn’t have its own power.

(I should make it clear that Riordan did not in any way steal my idea.  Actual original literary ideas are pretty rare, and it’s not at all uncommon for writers to work along similar lines.  And of course I never actually used the Poseidon idea myself, beyond some rather poor comic-style art long lost to the ages.)

The moon is settling toward the west, which tells me that it’s time I finished this post and wrote something I might get paid for.

More later.

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Wisdom from the Marmot

by wjw on July 27, 2015

marmot

If you’re at least as smart as your average marmot, you’ll want to subscribe to my newsletter and get a free Hugo- and Nebula-nominated ebook!

Now I call that equitable!

(If you’re already a subscriber, you’ve already received an email offering the ebook, so you won’t have to join all over again.)

 

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Misty Morning

by wjw on July 27, 2015

edgaraspeerHere through the mist we see the Edgar A. Speer taking on a cargo of taconite, which is the shit iron ore we’re left with after the good stuff has been mined.  Below in the mist, the little boat seems a visitor from another world.

Taconite, by the way, can be turned into steel, but only through enormous, complex industrial processes.  Since the waste products include asbestos, miners are subject to pleural conditions including mesothelioma.

When I was a tad, enormous amounts of taconite tailings were dumped into Lake Superior, whence Duluth and other towns drew their water, and I spent my childhood drinking asbestos.  I’ve had gastric problems my entire adult life, and I wonder if I have taconite to blame.

The morning mist clung on through midday, and here we see the same bay as in the previous post, but now misty and romantic as all get-out.

bay

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North Shore Sunset

by wjw on July 27, 2015

sunsetI’ve spent several days on the Iron Range enjoying the warm hospitality of my relations.   The only drawback of being in that lovely part of the world is that the whole region seems a stranger to actual high-speed internet.  Twice I found myself eating a truly mediocre lunch in a restaurant because they had wi-fi and I could check my email.

(If you’re trying to reach me, be patient.)

I’m now in a place on Lake Superior’s North Shore, with a wonderful lake view and a spotty internet connection.

I shall range on, as soon as I’ve caught up on my sleep.

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Duluth

by wjw on July 24, 2015

 

aerialbridgeAs the photo will attest, my wanderings have taken me to the city of my birth and the original source of my literary inspiration, Duluth, Minn.  Alas, the sign on the city limits, “Birthplace of Walter Jon Williams,” seems to have been taken down for repair.

(And honestly, who else do they have?  They make a big deal about Bob Dylan, who was born in a hospital here, but Dylan actually grew up in Hibbing, 75 miles away.

(When Duluth wishes to draft me for their literary festival, I stand ready.)

The city was named (apparently by people who couldn’t spell) after one of the first Europeans in the vicinity, the adventurous French trader Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhute.  The same bad spellers apparently went on to found Duluth, Georgia.  (The Georgians must have got tired of naming everything after Button Gwinnett.)

When I was growing up, Duluth was a modestly decaying city in a spectacular setting, built on a hill overlooking Lake Superior.  At present industrial decline seems to have been arrested, and the downtown, while still having its fair share of empty storefronts, seems devoted chiefly to banks and financial service companies.  There are a lot of new buildings. Somebody must have money, though I don’t know who.

The city’s principal landmark is the Aerial Lift Bridge, shown above.  Originally passengers were swung across the channel in a kind of basket hanging from the upper beams, but early in the last century the basket was replaced with the lifting span, much (I imagine) to the relief of commuters.

When I was a child the bridge was an enormous, horned black structure of highly ornamented Victorian iron, and I was a little afraid of it.  I dreamed about the bridge through my teen years, where it loomed as an ominous symbol of Something or Other.  The dreams vanished after I walked across the bridge as an adult, and found out it was just a bridge.

By which time it was no longer black.  At one point the city decided to illuminate the bridge at night, and there was a big ceremony, carried live on television, in which the floodlights were switched on— and nothing happened!  You couldn’t tell the difference.  The city decided to paint the bridge silver so it would show up better in the spotlights, and after several decades they’ve finally got the formula right, and I can now see it from my hotel window.

Next to the bridge, in my youth, was the gaudily labeled Chun King building, seen here on the right.  There was manufactured millions of servings of frozen Chinese food, all at the command of that wily Oriental businessman, Jeno Paulucci. (Jeno later invented the pizza roll, sold by the Lone Ranger and Stan Freberg.)  The Chun King company has gone on to the Western Paradise, but the building is still there, and still owned by Paulucci’s estate.

I’ve been wandering about in the footsteps of my childhood, viewing my childhood homes, and wandering through the woods where I wandered as a child.  The trees have matured or fallen down, and I could find very few of the trails I remembered, although possibly they are visible only to someone three feet tall.

I’ve also been sampling specialties of the local cuisine: lake trout, walleyed pike, and some damned good steaks.  Steaks here still taste like beef, which is not the case elsewhere.  I’ve twice had dinner at the Pickwick, a 100-year-old classic Midwestern chop house, with its lovely view of the sailboats on the lake, and if that wasn’t enough to engender a fit of nostalgia, I don’t know what would.

The town seems less Finnish than I remember.  There were Finnish-language radio stations (on the Iron Range, actually) that played a lot of damn polkas, and Finnish editions of the Daily Worker, the IWW’s Industrialisti, and the pro-independence Päivälehti, which could be published in the States free of Russian censorship.

And as for my original source of literary inspiration, it doesn’t seem to have inspired anything this time around.  I’ve often thought I could do something with the Utopian aspirations of the original Finnish colonists, but the idea never cohered. Perhaps the idea needs to simmer a while, or perhaps it’s just been too long, and I’m too removed from my childhood.  

Up to the Iron Range next, and a great many cousins.

 

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Glorious Sights of Kansas (Volume 1)

July 21, 2015

I could open this essay with a lame joke about Dorothy not being in Kansas anymore, but I think it’s better if you just imagine it. Anyway, if Dorothy were in Kansas she’d be able to look at space capsules and an SR-71 Blackbird and many other aerospace goodies, that is if Dorothy were in Hutchinson, […]

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Road Trip

July 18, 2015

I’m on the road, looking for America or the world’s best BBQ or maybe just lightin’ out for the territory. Kathy’s decided to remodel the kitchen, which will involve about a month’s worth of destruction, construction, inconvenience, and noise.  I found myself unable to work, eat, or sleep, and so I’m going on a road […]

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Punchdrunk

July 16, 2015

So I’ve been trying to wrangle some software to do some basic, simple tasks, and it’s taken three days.  Three whole days I’ll never see again.  Three days in which, believe me, I’ve had a lot of other things to do. This isn’t helped by the fact that Comcast has apparently decided I’m not allowed to […]

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Customer Service

July 13, 2015

So Walter, I hear you asking, how did you spend your lovely Monday afternoon? Why, I was dealing with Comcast Customer Service, and it was the most pleasant thing in all the world. To give you an idea of the utter pleasantness of the whole thing, I refer you to the letter below, which I wrote to […]

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Wrapping Up the Bear

July 10, 2015

The 2015 edition of Taos Toolbox is over, save for the big celebratory dinner tonight.  The students were a talented, ambitious crew, and they worked hard, which meant Nancy and I had to work hard, too. The students have scattered all over the county, shopping or sightseeing or just getting away.  I’m just bumping around […]

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