Art by mail: Extreme Wisconsin geology

Postcard collage of glacial geology, the St. Croix River, and man on stand-up paddleboard thing

Message on postcard:
Hi Kate! Greetings from Berkeley, California, where I’m laid up a friend’s apartment recovering from a wild boar attack. The picture on this postcard is of the St. Croix River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, I think. It was beautiful when I was out there earlier this summer and the water was high, before drought took hold in the Midwest.

My grandfather lived much of his life in a tiny town called Marine on St. Croix, and I visited his grave in the town’s tiny cemetery. I remember when I was a kid when my grandfather died; I was 12 or 13 years old, and it was the first death in the family I had to deal with. I was up late awake, crying in bed, when my dad came into my room to comfort me. It was his dad who’d just died, and he told me he remembered when his grandfather had died when he was a kid. I quieted down, expecting that he would say more, but that’s all there was, and just that much was all it took for me to find enough quiet to calm down.

My family was out here in California when I was attacked by the boar, and when I was in the emergency room worried about keeping my legs, my dad was there and knew the right thing to say. I don’t remember what it was, probably because of the morphine and the subsequent general anesthesia, but I told him about how what he had said when his dad died had helped me out … but thinking about it now I wonder if it’s not so much about hearing the right thing, but having the right person there to talk to you.

Art by mail: Sleeping Bear Dunes

Postcard collage of Sleeping Bear Dunes, flag, and gun diagram

Message on postcard:
Hi Evan — It’s been a great summer and I hope you enjoy this postcard. It’s from Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. At least, it’s a picture of Sleeping Bear Dunes in the background. The raw materials for the collage came from what I think was a semi-permanent garage sale in the Black Hills, and I glued it together in California Colorado, and I’m writing it in Berkeley, California.

I hope you’ll forgive the typos; I took a Percocet earlier because my legs were hurting, but I really hate these pain pills. They make me feel foggy and stupid and it’s difficult to concentrate. My brain starts thinking of words that come later in the sentence and that my hands shouldn’t yet be ready to write, but my hands are like, “What’s that, Brain? Okay, that seems like a good word to write; I’ll just skip like half the sentence; that should be okay.” And my brain is like, “What? Sorry, I was thinking of the music from Sonic the Hedgehog,” and my brain completely fails to stop my hand from doing something dumb.

And in a more general sense, I just write weird sentences. Like when I want to say that I write wrong words, I’ll say that “my hand does dumb stuff”, which makes it sound like I’m shoplifting candy bars or scratching my crotch while I stand in line at the post office.

I had intended to write about the creative process here, and how this postcard came together, but instead I wrote about how painkillers make me feel, which you really could have learned from any seventh grader with bad decision-making skills, poor self-control, and access to an unguarded medicine cabinet. And if he had written this postcard it would have been much more upbeat because he would love the way Percocet makes him feel, and he would think that parsable sentences are for punk-ass dweebs.

The creation of Sleeping Bear Dunes

Detail from reverse side of postcard: The creation of Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Sleeping Bear Dunes and artillery mini-collage

Detail from reverse side of postcard: Mini-collage of Sleeping Bear Dunes and artillery.

Art by mail: Badlands porthole

Postcard collage of Badlands, porthole, and elaborate costume

Message from postcard:
Hi Ron — You had made a special request that you wanted to get something genuine, and as I try to think of some serious subject matter to blather on, I’m listening to a Portland band called S.K. and the Punk-Ass Bitches sing, “It’s all about the money, it’s all about the cash, I want to sign a big, fat record deal.” Which, who knows, maybe that was genuine for them.

Right now my genuine concerns are actually along the same lines. Not so much about a big, fat record deal, but rather the money and the cash, specifically in the form of the huge deductible on my budget-rate health insurance policy. The tentative plan is to call up the hospital’s financial services group and set up a five-hundred-year payment plan. (If you haven’t been keeping up with my web updates, I got a little tossed around by a wild pig.) On the flip side, I’m genuinely happy to still have both my legs and both my dogs.

I’m spending some time recuperating in the Bay Area while I wait for a follow-up appointment with the doc who stitched me back together. Yesterday I met up with a friend who lives in Oakland, and we drove up to the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond. A park ranger there saw my bandages and asked what happened to my legs. When I told her, her first follow-up question was, “Did it happen on public land?” It’s tempting to think that answering in the affirmative could have dramatically increased the National Park Service’s pig management budget.

This morning I went out for brunch with a former co-worker, and tonight I’m going to a barbecue that a chemist friend from college invited me to. Being in a big city for a few days has begun to feel like normal adult life, which has me thinking a lot about settling down after all this travel and starting to work on the next chapter of my life.

I love and miss Iowa, my home state, but my feelings on the place are too complicated to sum up here, and I don’t think I’ll be making another attempt at putting roots down there. I have a hard time feeling at home in places, and the only times I’ve ever really felt at home were living in Iowa, and also traveling this summer with no home. Life is complicated…

Art by mail: A South Dakota collage

Postcard collage of South Dakota flag, dinosaur, and truck

Message on postcard:
Hello Rolf! It’s nearing 5 p.m. in Berkeley, California as I write this. When you supplied your contact info for this postcard, you added a little note: “Faced with a choice, do both.” As it turns out, that’s exactly what I did last week when I had an encounter with a wild boar.

Faced with the classic “fight or flight” choice, I first tried fighting, and when that didn’t work out so well I chose to take off. And as a result I have both a great story to tell and also I’m still alive! Here’s to self-preservation and the mother of all porcine fracases.

And so now I’m recovering in the Bay Area (the region surrounding San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay), hanging out at a coffee shop and listening to Foghat. Tomorrow I have a follow-up appointment with the doctor and I’m really hoping that he tells me everything is okay and that I should resume camping and travel and also continue listening to Foghat. Then he’d whip out a guitar and start shredding while a pair of custom crutches revealed themselves to be fog machines and also there would be a laser light show. But reality frequently falls short of my imagined hopes, leaving me disappointed.

Anyway. This postcard has South Dakota stuff on it, so I should probably talk about South Dakota. There’s a dinosaur here, but there are no dinosaur skeletons in the fossil-rich Badlands — it was undersea during the age of the dinosaurs. But there are lots of neat prehistoric animals — big mammals — fossilized there. I talked to a volunteer who found a tortoise shell the size of a car, but I was more interested in the mysterious and catastrophic end to his former career [as a TV broadcast engineer in Minneapolis] that he alluded to during his science talk.

Badlands explained

Detail from the reverse side of the postcard: The Badlands explained.