As a retired professional outdoorsman, I was struck by your provocative comments in “Avoiding Retirement.”
In 1995 the Association of National Park Rangers held its annual “Ranger Rendezvous” in St. Paul. A number of rangers attended your show, and you, responding to a question of whether we had any authority there, you said, “Rangers are, indeed, observers of nature and birds and also observant of people, which allows them to bring people and nature together safely.
Are your provocative statements on outdoorsmen your convictions masquerading as humor, or the reverse?
Regardless, if you ever make it to Voyageurs, St. Croix, Grand Portage, or Pipestone in Minnesota, or any of the other national and state park areas, I’m sure the rangers there would be glad to show you around.
Tony Sisto, National Park Service, Retired Eagle River, AK
I thought the column was rather humorous when I wrote it but of course that’s not up to me, it’s up to the reader. A friend of mine is a National Park Service ranger up in Alaska and she loves the work and the contact with people. Visitors are often in a state of awestruck wonder and this can bring out the best in people. This week I’m going to the funeral of my high school biology teacher Lyle Bradley, a passionate birdwatcher and naturalist, a man I admired as a teacher even though I was one of his worst students. The family asked me to speak and I plan to recite three little poems that are full of wonder, one about horses, one about wild geese, one about a grasshopper. Lyle was a great man. I did a show once in Anoka, my hometown, and got the chance to honor him then.
Read your column on birdwatching — my goodness, Garrison, were you attacked as a child by a yellow-breasted chat or the retiree watching it? Such enmity! I would say that birding is quite valuable. Data collected by birders tell about the state of the environment — and these days, how bad it is. And without birds, be prepared to be overtaken by the insect community. You’ll have to learn to eat cicadas before they eat you. Now, I’m going to go watch some birds. I enjoy your columns — especially the wryly provocative ones.
Jim from Montana
I’m sure you’re right, Jim, and glad you put the word “wryly” in there.
I intended to respond to your recent column, but then the story got too long and I got too shy for the comments section. Thanks for your work!
I walked into the kitchen early this morning and found on the table a note I left last night. Four entries. Legible, perhaps, to only me: Keillor, RTP, GAC, & turkey vultures.
In 1978 I graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College and I remember seeing you, seated on the dais to receive an honorary doctorate. Also on the dais was ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson, whom you mentioned in your recent column about birdwatchers and avoiding retirement, and who also received an honorary doctorate.
One of my advisors invited you and my family to their home for a very low-key reception. As I recall, you were very quiet.
I bet Roger Tory Peterson, one heck of a birder, never retired. I have. And last night, after a long, hot day in the garden, I waded into the lake to cool off, and as I floated, a pair of turkey vultures flew overhead, looking for a place to land. You’ve seen vultures on roadsides and in ditches, haven’t you? They land on objects that are no longer moving, don’t they? So my advice is: “Look up. Keep moving.”
Thanks for the columns, and the conversations. Thanks for kick-starting a chain of fine memories.
I remember that day at Gustavus and as I recall, the citation was in Latin. I’m sure Gustavus has had occasion to regret doctoring me and I’ve managed to avoid any other honorary degrees. The honor should belong to those who work for it, not to radio comedians. As for turkey vultures, I don’t think I’d recognize one if it walked up to me on the street, but the advice to “Keep moving” is exactly right.
Birdwatchers are benign and quiet like Hiawatha. They take lots of photos they later discard except for the rare birds — like you.
Take a poke at the ATV folks that are breeding like Lyme ticks everywhere but particularly in the forests disturbing birdwatchers and others like hikers and meditators escaping the Urbs, and they are making highways where once there were trails. Soon they will demand special crossing lanes in cities and woods.
Tommy C. with glaucoma and hearing loss
Birdwatchers are beyond reproach and that’s why I made fun of them. The ATV folks sound like a real problem, like the electric scooters that race silently around New York City and pose a real hazard to pedestrians, but I’m not in the law enforcement line of work. I just think out loud.
I live on the UWS from time to time and I am curious to know which Episcopal church you attend. I love Christ and St. Stephens on W. 69th and have also visited All Angels and St. John the Divine, but none seem to match the one you describe. I love visiting new churches and would love to add this one to the list.
When I’m in New York, I go to St. Michael’s on Amsterdam and 100th, though occasionally to St. Mary the Virgin on 46th and sometimes Holy Apostles down in Chelsea. I like St. Michael’s because Jenny married me there and because John the organist plays so movingly and sometimes we sing an evangelical hymn or spiritual or that gorgeous Catholic hymn “I Am the Bread of Life” and also because (at least back before the pandemic) the church is often packed with people. But you never know, on Sunday morning, what may hit you, a line of Scripture, a line in a prayer, something in the homily, that moves your heart and shakes your soul. You never know but always there’s something.
Your most recent post (“Oh Beautiful”) hits on a point that is so timely now. Those fleeting moments where we find bliss. For me it’s the sudden whiff from a certain sweet grass that takes me to a beloved lake cottage from my childhood, the tasty tang of stewed rhubarb that calls my grandmother to mind, those certain songs in my playlist that I cannot resist dancing to — grab those moments and revel in them! Thanks for reminding us.
Bliss is elusive and comes unexpectedly and is hard to plan, but I do remember the experience of walking down the trail into the Grand Canyon as amazing. All that traffic up on the rim and tourists at the rail taking video and you head down the trail and after three or four turns, you’re plunged into vast silence and the colors of centuries of rock and sand. It’s the same stunning experience for everybody.
You are fond of your wife, fortunate in her caring for you. As am I with my good wife of 35 years. So I thought to share this recent verse of mine with you as you might enjoy it.
I don’t imagine you’d include it in “Post to the Host” as it would undoubtedly open the gate to a torrent of verse, rhyme, and doggerel.
Best wishes with your summer shows. We can’t make them from Australia but we’ll be tuning in as best we can.
WHY did you ever leave PHC ??
I ask myself that question, Dennis, sometimes in the middle of the night. I also ask myself why I sold a house I loved on Goodrich Avenue in St. Paul and why I quit the show in 1987 to go to Denmark and why I wrote that column about birdwatchers. And then there are the regrets about things I failed to do. Mistakes are interesting, though, and once you get past the shame and embarrassment, they make the best stories. My wife has a great monologue made up of all of our disastrous vacations and it’s so funny, even I laugh at it though I’m the punchline in most of it. The New Year’s trip to Arctic Norway to see the Aurora Borealis when it rained the whole time and I stayed in the hotel with the flu is the best part. Every time I think about it, I feel grateful to be at home.
So I’ve been enjoying reading your memoir but my mind comes back to your YMCA swimming lessons story, about taking lessons with other boys in the nude at the Y, and the reason given to your mother that it’s necessary for the instructor to be able to see proper kicking technique that way. Is this an incident that has gnawed at you over the years? Was that indeed the normal way of doing things in Minnesota in the 1950s?!? Any further elucidation you can give to this story or its aftermath would be much appreciated!
E. Jean Taylor
I went to two lessons at the Y and then quit, out of dread at being nude and also fear of water and fear of the instructor who yelled at us. My mother didn’t question the Y’s explanation but I did. It felt creepy to me. She was intent on my learning to swim because my cousin Roger had drowned that spring at the age of 17, a week before graduating from high school, which hit my mother very hard. So I kept going downtown every day but instead of the Y I went to the library and then to the WCCO radio studios to watch a live noontime show, “Good Neighbor Time,” with Bob DeHaven the genial host, Wally Olson and His Orchestra, tenor Burt Hanson, accordionist Ernie Garven, and pianist Jeannie Arlen. It was the last of the live radio variety shows in Minnesota, at least until 1974 when “Prairie Home” came along.
Hi there, Garrison. I heard you pronounce “Aldebaran” and it sounded different than I’d heard it before. The eye of the bull is a wonderful star though — and I believe it should be pronounced with the accent on the second syllable.
Thank you, Ken. In broadcasting, a person develops an authoritative voice in order to slip past difficult words without hesitation. The name of the town Piscacadawadaquoddymoggin rolls off my tongue and nobody questions where I put the accent. Heather Masse and I once did a duet of “Pu’u’hana’hu’lu” entirely in Hawai’an and never did we hear one word of correction from native speakers. Maybe different islands have different accents, I don’t know. We both felt pretty good about it. When I saw the name “Aldebaran” in a Writer’s Almanac script, I should’ve stopped and googled it and I didn’t because — well, you know why — we’re all in a hurry. Glad you took time to write.
Tell us a little more about Carl Krebsbach. Is he a bona fide home builder or just the village handyman? And why was he hauling the buried septic tank/car to the dump while his daughter was being honored as Homecoming Queen in a parade? I wouldn’t think he would want to miss such an important occasion, even for a trip to the dump.
Never missed a parade my kids were in.
This is an excellent question, Jim. Carl is the town handyman but he’s built a few houses and additions to houses, whatever people needed. For years, the town population was shrinking so the need for new houses was slim but now there’s been a boom and Carl is busy as can be. He got busy digging up that malfunctioning septic tank, which, to his surprise, turned out to be a 1953 Chevy, and once he got it uncovered, he couldn’t let it sit in the yard because they were planning a garden party to honor the Queen. He loaded it onto a long trailer and headed for the dump and then heard the marching band and realized he was late. He turned to get on the road to the dump and the wind was now behind him and he was confused by the fumes and made another turn to clear the air and found himself on Main Street and the convertible with the Queen heading toward him. It gave a lot of people a great deal of pleasure to see this. In addition to the spectators, many people heard me talk about it. Carl tired of the story long ago but he is resigned to the fact that it is still being told and that is why he’s told Margie that there is to be no eulogy at his funeral.
I looked forward very much to the “Finding Your Roots” segment that would feature you. It didn’t happen, of course. Could you write this material up in your own format and present it?
The show I did with Henry Louis Gates Jr. was supposed to be shown in 2017 but got pulled by PBS after Minnesota Public Radio threw me under the bus and killed “The Writer’s Almanac” in a panic about #MeToo. It was a shameful episode, unjust to the core, and luckily it happened when I was 75 and not when I was 55. When you’re 75, you’re beyond lynching. I’m sure Dr. Gates had nothing to do with it. I heard that they might use the episode but I hope they don’t.
Dear Sir, in your recent response to Pat J, you asked who Carole King is. I don’t know if you’re serious or not. Probably the later. She’s both a musical genius, a gifted pianist, a radiant goddess, and generally wonderful human being. When I took my daughter, who discovered her in my old CDs, to the Broadway show about her (bit fictionalized of course) it was to my joy, she and her old dad could go have a deeply satisfying conversation about it afterward. Having such conversations with your child is truly one of the greatest gifts of parenthood.
You’re right. I was joking. And you’re right about those soulful conversations about mutual convictions of two generations.
No, GK, respectfully and with sincerity, one-fourth of the country do not “imagine” Trump won the 2020 dog show, we know he won that show — as the audits in Arizona, Georgia, et al. are now proving.
It is such a shame that you have to drag your hatred for Trump and dislike for anything right-leaning into your otherwise brilliant, wickedly funny, and thoroughly entertaining discourses.
Leaning to the right,
I don’t hate President Trump and I don’t hate you, sir, and I trust that you don’t hate President Biden. We simply disagree. As for what is conservative and what is right, I suggest you read George F. Will’s columns, a truly brilliant writer, not a comedian like me.
Thanks for your reflection on the dog show winner.
I expect you will receive some irate emails from Pekingese owners, but I say, Hold fast. You are right that working dogs are the best, and rewarding dogs for a showy attitude is an indicator of the continuing degradation of our culture. I am biased because I have a border collie named Sunny whose name describes her disposition. Sunny flunked out of sheepherding, but she puts my little grandchildren in their place when called upon to help with the household discipline and comes to me every single time I call her, regardless of squirrels, cats, or cicadas. Her main job now is to scout the trail when I hike and come back to let me know if there are people or deer ahead of me. She performs with dedication and focus. Competence with a sunny disposition, that’s what the world needs now, none of this fluffy "attitude.”
Thanks again for your reflections and I pray your health continues to improve,
I never heard of a dog so useful as yours, who can scout a trail and herd grandchildren and comes when called and retains a sunny disposition. I would think you could train her to find misplaced objects, such as car keys, glasses, billfold. A dog this good could go to the corner store and operate an ATM. She could, on your secret signal, bring you her leash and bark and you’d have an excuse to bring a dinner party to an end and take her for a walk.
I know from years of listening and reading that you have several
siblings (I see Tomato Butt coming up again). I wonder how their paths
differed from yours. I was the elder son, the good boy, the scholar.
Whether it was birth order, fate, or genetics, my brother defined
himself in opposition, as the rebel and athlete. We looked like each
other; our lives did not. Any other writers in your family?
Paul S., Orinda
My brother Steven is a historian, brother Stan is a lawyer, sister Judy a teacher, sister Linda worked in community relations and communications for big companies and then colleges, and my brother Phil was a coastal engineer working on environmental problems on the Great Lakes. I tried to be the rebel, we didn’t produce any real athletes.
My family is in Florida, including my daughter, a very gifted actress who’s been admitted to the BFA Acting Program at the University of Minnesota. She has seen snow only once and felt freezing temperatures once on a trip to NY. Any advice for a young Floridian lady moving to the Twin Cities?
Winter Garden, FL
P.S. I am a real Floridian, but I do not own brightly colored pants, do not drive a golf cart, and I think Trump is a charlatan.
As an actor, your daughter will need to draw on her own life experiences, both joyful and grievous, and Minnesota will provide her with some genuine suffering that she can later draw on if, let’s say, she plays a victim of torture, a peasant farm wife, a saintly martyr. Tragedy is at the heart of great drama and Minnesota will give her a sense of it that she couldn’t find at the beach. Nonetheless, she should bring warm clothing, a down coat, long underwear, a fur hat, gloves. She can be glamorous onstage but on the street she should dress warmly.
I so enjoyed your show when it came to Portland (also the one in SF). Garrison, will you be taking your show to the west anytime soon?
The show you saw was the full radio show with band and guests and actors, I suppose. The show I do now is smaller and slighter. Sometimes just me, sometimes with a pianist and singing partner, sometimes with a gospel quartet. I tell stories, do some poems and songs, fool around with the audience, and get the crowd to sing. People seem to like it but it’s different.
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