Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fishing With Veterans

This past weekend was spent fishing for muskie with my friends Steve and John, a tradition that is ten years running now, as I mentioned last post. I'll be honest, I had a bad feeling going in. I figured since I got one last year, it was back to the drought. 

It turns out I couldn't have been more wrong.

Within the first hour of the first day, we boated a 40" fish that my buddy hauled in. Then within an hour and a half of that one, I caught a 30" fish while casting. There is nothing quite like catching a muskie casting (as opposed to trolling), so I was elated to not be skunked. 

Then, while John was taking my fish off, the bobber started moving on one of the suckers in the water. It was what we call a "doubleheader" in the fishing world; two fish on at the same time. It's something that is almost unheard of in the muskie fishing world. 

Because my fish was much tinier than the 40" fish caught earlier, they decided to let me catch the one on the bobber. After about 10 minutes I landed my second fish of the day, a 36"er. It put up a tremendous fight and I shook for 15 minutes. It was a moment that I won't soon forget.

The following day we hooked into another 37" and lost a couple more that spit the bait. None of us could believe our luck.

To add to an already fantastic weekend, John, his girlfriend Jen and I all surprised Steve with showing him where his father's name would be engraved at the Presque Isle Wilderness Veterans Memorial. It is a beautiful memorial right outside downtown that features granite markers for each war and an "eternal flame" that funds raised by donors keep burning. 

The idea was John and Jens, and when they told me, I told them I was in for sure. I got a couple pictures of Steve's dad, Richard Krey and the dates he served etc. They sent it in and now his picture an service info is on the website

Steve seemed pretty touched and it was a cool moment between three guys who have fished together for 10 years and become pretty good buddies. I credit both of them for making my muskie experiences way better than I ever dreamed. It hasn't always been easy, but they sure do make it fun. I'm lucky to have them as friends. They both love to help other people catch fish.

Now, I can't wait until next October.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Ten Years Running - Off The Grid

By the time this is visible, I will be on my way to my happy place in the great Northwoods of  Wisconsin. This will be my 10th year going up in October for what I term, Muskyfest.

My first trip in 2009 came with much trepidation. My friend Steve had asked a couple of times if I'd ever want to come up muskie fishing. I told him that I wasn't really into fishing for a single species with a high probability of not coming home with a picture of a fish. I'd seen a few of his pictures where he was dressed in a winter coat and hat holding a giant fish, and the appeal just seemed wane even more.


After a couple of rejections, I finally gave in to see what all the hype was about. We went up on a Thursday night in mid-October and gave it a go. On Friday, we had a gorgeous day, where we fished a favorite lake all day. It wasn't until about 4:00 when we'd just cracked a beer and were having a sandwich wrap when the "clicker" on the rod we were trolling with started clicking. Steve checked the line for tension and said, "Yeah, you might want to put down that beer and catch this fish."

It ended up being a small 34" fish, but suffice it to say that fish changed everything. After we'd photographed it and set it free, I still shook for 10 minutes afterward. The adrenaline rush that these fish incite in a fisherman is second to none.

I was hooked!

Needless to say I've been going up every year since. It's become a bit of an obsession with me. I've fished in rain, snow, sleet and high winds. The things you do for a minute long fight with a large fish. As for all my fears about the cold weather, well, it turns out you can dress for that! ;-)

Much of the trip involves a friendly, ongoing banter in the boat with my buddies, Steve and John. It helps pass the time, and the laughter is therapeutic. This is the place where I can let go of all the stress and routine of my life back in the cities. It is grounding and, I kid you not, this last fishing trip of the year is part of what gets me through the winter.

So, if I don't pick up my phone in the next 3 days, you'll know why. (Besides, the cell coverage up there is the worst!)

Going off the grid and,

Blogging off...


Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Visit From An Old Friend

Last night we went and saw the movie Western Stars with a couple of good friends. These friends are music lovers just like us, so when we saw that it was coming out, we set the date. We're all big Springsteen fans, and they had never seen him in concert, so thought this would be the next best thing.

I've seen him in concert twice in the 80's when he was in his prime. The first time was for The River tour. I went with some friends and were treated to one of the best concerts I've ever been to, and I've seen a lot of them. The second time was for the Born in the USA tour and again he did not disappoint. Both concerts were pushing 3 hours in duration. It was amazing and set the bar for every other performer I've seen, a bar that few if any have hit.



I know not everyone is a Springsteen fan, and that's fine. But regardless of what you think of his music, you cannot deny his legacy of songwriting and performing. His songs tell stories and are in every sense of the word, poetic. I remember when his Nebraska album came out - it was an entirely acoustic album, after a half dozen rock albums had established his name as one of the best. Lots of people panned the album. I happened to love it. Lyrically it was all Bruce, and I totally understood his need to stretch creatively.

So the movie was a concert he put on in his barn with a full orchestra and band. The music was entirely his new album, Western Stars, that has a country and Americana feel to it, mixed with a bit of Neil Diamond epic ballads thrown in. It's growing on me. In between each song, was a voiceover explaining each song. These snippets were accompanied by sweeping vistas of the American Southwest and or people interacting. His stories were authentic and provided some great glimpses into the heart of people and this country. It was a great movie, and I recommend it.

And of course, as with all of my rock heroes, he's showing his age (as am I!). He's 70 years old, and looks 55. But along with Bob Seger, who I saw last December, I can't think of a rock star who I looked up to as much as those guys. They are storytellers, phenomenal performers and yet vulnerable to the passing of time, just like you and I.

But for one night, it was great to see him back making music (albeit as a movie.)

He's still and always will be The Boss.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Genetically Blogging

It seems I have another book in the books, so to speak. I finally got my cover for my newest chapbook, Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood, from my publisher, Local Gems Press. After the last of my textual edits, they've sent it off to press and I should be receiving my copies in three weeks. Huzzah!

For those who don't know, my other collection, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV, came out a couple of weeks ago. (It's been a very good year). I was waiting for this one to come to completion so I could schedule a dual-book release in November. Watch for details on that, tentatively pending for Nov. 16th or 23rd.

The book came about through a NaPoWriMo contest by Local Gems Press back in April. Poets are encouraged/obligated to write a poem a day for the whole month. Then, at the end of the month, we were supposed to submit our manuscripts for consideration. I was a "honorable mention" that also got an offer of publication. Thus, Genetically Speaking was born.

The book comes at fatherhood from all dimensions. If you know my background, you know my father was killed at a young age. Many of the poems address that experience - all the questions and subsequent angst that comes with such a tragedy.

Twelve years later, my mom remarried and suddenly we had a "stepfather," who also appears throughout the book. It looks at all of the struggles of living with a dad who is not blood but fills the role of one and comes bringing some issues. 

And then there's the father in-law experience that comes with any marriage. The father by default whose traits you sometimes see in your spouse sometimes and suddenly things make more sense.

Sprinkled throughout are poems about the father-figures in my life. I'm talking about friends who've mentored me, a brother who helped fill in where a dad should have, and those I admire for adopting children, a selfless act that exceeds my own fatherhood experience.

This one is not filled with as much humor as my poems of the past. Fatherhood is not all laughs and humor. Some are tragic for people and for those people I mourn. Mine was mostly good - what little of it I had. And of course there is a ton of reflection on my own fatherhood experience, a source of unending joy in my life.

So, without giving more about the book away, I have to say, keep your eyes peeled on my website and social media for details on the signings. I hope to schedule one for Minnesota as well as a handful in Wisconsin.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

October's Fest

 Fall is always a melancholy time of year for me. I love the colors and the beauty of a nice fall day, yet it is a brutal reminder of what follows as well. I admit I am in full denial and was wearing short sleeves until yesterday, when the bottom dropped out of the weather and I was forced to go full sweatshirt.

At the same time, this time of October always holds great significance for me for a number of reasons. Today was my nephew (and godson) Nick's birthday. He and I were pretty close as he was young and have maintained a great bond ever since. He is currently serving our country in the Middle East, leaving his family back in Wisconsin while he finishes out his tour.

And of course I can't forget that tomorrow my brother Rob would have been 55. Not a day goes by where I don't think of him in one way or another. He always loved this time of year as well. He was a rabid Viking fan but also loved going to the apple orchard and picking pumpkins with his wife and daughters. He was a Halloween buff and got into decorating the house and/or going all out in his costuming.

Rob's presence is missed at family functions, but I still allege that his legacy was leaving all of us with a sense of living life with a grateful heart for each day as well as a compelling sense of urgency and purpose. "Live life to the fullest," was a saying he used with frequency, well before he was sick. They almost seem prophetic now.

Tattoo with date. 10-14-11
Another reason this time of October is significant is it usually the time I go muskie fishing. The fall bite is on and in a couple of weeks I'll be going up to fish for them again. And of course the colliding of both of these worlds happened 8 years ago tomorrow when I caught a muskie on what would have been Rob's 48th birthday. It was a smallish fish, but it helpd great significance for me. My friends Steve and John helped make it all happen in the rain on that lake that day, and I will always remember the day and the time with my friend who helped me remember my brother. It was the inspiration behind the tattoo I got in 2013 in honor of him. He will be there with us in spirit again in a couple of weeks.

And finally, this is the time of year that the traditional Landwehr Hunt takes place in northern Minnesota. This is a tradition started by my dad and his brothers over 50 years ago. Now it is all the sons and grandsons that go to Gull Lake to catch up, play cards and have some adult beverages. Hunting has always been a "decoy" for what really goes on. Often times no one brings a gun.

I've only been to one of these gatherings, and it was the only one all four of us brothers were all present for. At one point there were about six of us in a deer stand smoking cigars. It was like a sweat lodge except with smoke. Crazy stuff, but I laughed so hard my side hurt for two days. I am glad I made the trip. They'll be going up again this year, and again without me, as it falls too close to my fishing weekend, but I know it will be meaningful time together.

So, as much as I dread the oncoming winter, this month of October means a lot to me. Special people, special times and captivating memories. I am going to embrace the cool weather, the glorious colors and time with people I love.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Existentiality Is Not Just For Breakfast

I got an email last night about one of my poems that sort of caught me off-guard. I am always grateful for feedback on my writing as, for one, it means people are reading my work, and secondly that it is having an impact. 

This one referenced a poem, Wednesday's Child. The poem came from my collection, Written Life, and addresses the night my father was killed at the hands of a gang of men. I titled it after the nursery rhyme "Monday's Child" about children according to the various days of the week. It reads:

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for his living
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

I thought the Wednesday theme was fairly relevant given the tone of the poem. 

Anyways, the woman who emailed mentioned how the poem made her cry and even pray. She prayed against the violence and racism of today, and I must admit I pray that every day as well.

When I thanked her, I told her the story behind the poem and how everyone has a story and this was mine. I also mentioned that it all ended well, in that my mother was a hero and raised us all to be decent, loving human beings. She replied back with her own tough childhood story, thereby validating my thought that everyone has a story. Many are tragic. What makes us who we are is how  we respond and carry on through it all. 

Our humanity is shaped by our tragedy and our character is shaped by everything after.

So between this touching email and a friend dealing with a recent heart attack, another dealing with cancer, another with a detached retina, and yet another who is grateful to be alive after a wicked car accident, I am having yet another existential crisis. 

I hate to blab on and on about how lucky I am to be alive and in good health, but all of these things around me remind me of my life in the balance. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow or next month, and I am brutally aware that I need to live like it. We all do. 

Here is the poem she referenced.

Wednesday’s Child          by Jim Landwehr                                                                 

On a warm Wednesday night in June
my father steps into a bar not knowing
it would be a step preceding his father
into eternity with The Father.

A beer to numb the pain
of the angst of his middle age
and maybe another to numb it more
because it was Wednesday night.

The Wednesday night regulars say their hellos
and speak of loves, loss, and luck
while Johnny Cash sings
about those same things in the key of E.

In walk four youths with nothing to lose
looking for someone to prove it to.
He was the biggest target they could find
for their Wednesday night wilding.

They take him on four to one
he holds his own for a bit,
fighting to make it to Thursday
on this Wednesday night in June

But they kick and punch
with brutality and vengeance
beating a man because of his race
for fun on a Wednesday night.

When they leave he asks, why me?
Before he gets an answer
they return and beat him again,
beat him to death on this Wednesday night.

A call comes in from dispatch:
Altercation at Happy Harry’s,
a man down, bleeding, not breathing.
Lights and sirens, too late on a Wednesday night.

*From the poetry collection, Written Life

Blogging off...


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Shirking My Routine

I am as lame as they come when it comes to changing up my Saturday routine. I have come to love sameness and ritual on weekends, so when a curveball comes, I tend to grumble about it for a few weeks before it even happens.

Typically my Saturdays are completely predictable. Coffee with my wife, home to walk the dog, vacuum the whole house, go to library and write for a couple hours, do more house chores, have dinner or go out to eat, go to bed. Simple, boring and something I've come to love.

Last weekend it was all messed up by an all-day golf event. Yesterday all of that routine was blown out of the water by an all-day writing conference I attended in Middleton, just outside of Madison. I was invited to the conference because I served as a judge in one of its contests. Of course, I was flattered, and it was fairly close to where I live, so I agreed.

Very much like the golf tournament the week before and true to what almost always happens, my change in routine was stimulating, rejuvenating and a ton of fun. 

At these events I always walk in trepidatious about meeting and knowing people. It is a stupid, energy wasting fear, because I always end up sitting/talking with someone I know and it is fine. Why then such dread about that initial social introduction? I have no idea, other than my tendency toward introversion. Some seek out these things, others like me dread it until it happens, then we're fine.

The day was full of information and tips on writing and the writing/publishing process. A few of the highlights:

  1. A mystery writer who talked about moving the story along. I am not a mystery writer, but listening to this highly successful writer talk about the do's and don'ts of keeping a story moving with pacing, dialogue etc, was fascinating.
  2. The Wisconsin poet laureate who had us work with interweaving two subjects together to give a poem depth and complexity that it might have never had before. She has advanced degrees in English and writing and made me realize how flat my poetry and nonfiction is. (This is an eye opening realization, of course...)
  3. The winners of the Jade Ring Contest read some of their work over lunch. An entertaining diversion from taking notes on the presentations.
  4. A young woman came up and introduced herself as a fan of my work. She mentioned she was an English teacher at Arrowhead High School and had referenced my poems on a few occasions in her class. After talking to her for 5 minutes, I asked her name. It turns out it was Liz Jorgensen, sister of Gwen Jorgensen and daughter of Nancy, who I recently became friends with on Facebook. We had a great chat. It is these kinds of spontaneous networking opportunities that make these conferences so valuable.
  5. It turns out Liz then did a presentation on a cool form of Korean poetry called Sijo, (Pronounced SheeJoe). We all then wrote one and it gave me a new style to mess around with.
  6. Kim Suhr, a local writing teacher who owns her own studio gave a captivating talk on how to revise our work - a task no one likes, but is highly important.
  7. And finally, the day closed out with a wonderful author who hails from New York who talked about how to end a story well. After his talk was over, I asked if he had one good Woodstock story, as I'd heard he'd been there. He mentioned he was one of the few cops there in charge of 500,000 people and went on to tell a great story.
To finish off an already great day, I took my son out for dinner in Madison and had a great chat with him about his studies and his future. Such a good kid, living out a great collegiate experience in one of the best college towns in the nation. I live it vicariously through him.

So the day was nothing short of a fantastic diversion from my usual routine. Deep in the recesses of my mind, I knew it would, yet I still sort of dreaded it. And while I'll spend the rest of today catching up on what I didn't get done yesterday, I am a little richer person because I stepped out of that routine for 12 hours yesterday.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Me and Billy Preston

As a memoirist, I tend to be a raving nostalgic as well. I am one of those who looks back and tends to only see good things. Maybe it is part of my outlook - I tend to favor positivity and optimism, so maybe it's just the good things I see while relegating the bad to the deep recesses of the forgotten.

My wife and I have discovered that we are opposites that way. She tends to be forward-looking and has little time for the past. It carries through especially with regards to material keepsakes and such. I will pull out a photo album or a card my kids wrote and spend time looking at it and reminiscing. She can appreciate it, but has very little time for it or attachment to it. 

I'm not sure what makes some people nostalgic and others not so much. One of my biggest triggers is music. If I hear a song from the '70s, I am instantly back to the place that it reminds me of - my front porch, a friend's car, high school, wherever. 

For instance, whenever I hear Billy Preston sing "Will it go round in circles," I always picture him on the Midnight Special, a television show built around live performances by bands. I remember him banging away on a piano with a big afro and as a 12 year old kid, I thought, this dude is killin' it! It gave me an appreciation for his music and was one of those "where were you when you..." moments. I was in my living room watching the Midnight Special.

Or when I hear, Ride Captain, Ride, by The Blues Image, I am taken back to the beach at Bayport, Minnesota on the Saint Croix river with my step siblings. Those Saturdays were the best, times when we had few cares and it was summer. 

I tend to think of Lava Lamps, mood rings, and TV shows like The Waltons and Charlie's Angels. At the same time, I tune out the bad news of the day, like oil crises, Iranian hostages, and presidential impeachments, and the Vietnam war. Those things take back seat to Tang, Quisp and Quake, and disco (well, I guess disco was bad news of a different type.)

So when I write memoir, I think this is why I have such a love for it. It allows me not only to go back to those times, but to recreate them, hopefully in a realistic way that enables people to draw upon their own similar memories. And while I don't necessarily want to go back to those times - I love my life today - I do have a love for my past and feel I am lucky to have lived it. 

Blogging off...