May
13

abbey

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Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — the reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic.

Save the other half for yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.

So get out and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers,… breath deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stilness, that lovely mysterious and awesome space.

Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators.

I promise you this: you will out live the bastards.

-  Edward Abbey

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Apr
10

bad poetry

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I am a poet, and read my poems in a strange, nasally sing-song voice.
People say, “Why does he read so strangely?”

But then they will say;
“Oh, he is a poet, and he is better than us.”
They are right. I am superior.

Fools think they can understand my poems.
Larks can; they sing along with me while others mock.

But superior people can grasp my meanings
If they dress in black
And attend private colleges
That will saddle them with
Student loans.
The banker’s pain will be worth it.

My palate spews verse like the tongues of water,
Split by a boulder in the waterfall of my mind.

Stand back or you may be dampened by my words.

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Mar
16

burn-in

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I just purchased a new portable titanium stove from Four Dog Stoves, owned by Don Kevilus, a self-taught genius who understands How Things Work. He builds well designed and thought out portable stoves for use in heating up small canvas tents for wilderness camping from October to April (at least in the upper Midwest).  These tents provide a level of comfort unknown in their nylon-skinned brethren.

Adding heat to the equation males life so much better in the winter.  You can consume and thus carry fewer calories since your body will throttle back your metabolism when it doesn’t need the heat. It can also drive moisture out of clothing and sleeping bags.  During a winter trip a sleeping bag can absorb a lot of moisture, and an 80 degree ridgeline can drive that moisture out.  And of course, in survival situations it’s a critical piece of gear.

But before you use your stove, you gotta burn it in.  This means a nice hot fire for a few hours or more to burn off any chemicals that might have been used in the manufacturing process.  Titanium has no coating per se, but there is a galvanized elbow that has to burn off its toxic coating. Eew.

At any rate, you start cooking with a stove in your tent before a good solid burn-in and you’ll experience a toxic sweat lodge.

I had a few hunks of hickory that were about 4 inches long, so I split them with my mind power and set them aside.  The fire started quickly, and pretty soon smoke poured from the chimney and the tinking of metal began as the stovepipe turned into a rainbow of colors.

The stovepipe is ingenious. Rather than having seamed pipe that has to be snapped together, Don created a conical pipe that nests so the pipe starts little and gets bigger as it goes.  It looks sorta Dr. Seussian but it works great.  Everything fits inside the stove’s firebox.  Super light, super compact.

Because titanium doesn’t rust per se and has a melting point of 3500 degrees F., there’s no burn-out on the bottom of the stove.  Don builds two layers into the bottom of his stoves and that keeps things stable where fires are the hottest.

Anyway, lighting a small wood stove with the stovepipe wired to your coach light is likely to draw attention, especially when it’s first going and bellowing white smoke. Then again, the neighbors are used to it.  I think they secretly enjoy the randomness that shows us in our less-than-random street.

This is a well-made piece of gear.  Don obviously has a skill for spot-welding.  This thing could be dropped down the side of a cliff, retrieved and put back to use without a whimper.  The door and damper is as airtight as some $1500 stoves.  In fact, it’s better in some ways.  The screen behind the butterfly door is not something I’ve seen before on traditional wood stoves.  It’s that good.

Gear testing attracts Ian too.  As the wood burned down into a nice bead of coals, Ian came outside to check in and to chill by his old man. For that reason alone, I love testing new gear.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

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Feb
29

rosa

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A few years ago I took a kayak trip to Puget Sound and paddled in one of my favorite places, Deception Pass.  It’s a tricky place when the tides aren’t slack with an eddy fence that might as well be barbed wire.  Easy to trip up there.

Deception Island is a mile or so offshore, a lovely little 4-acre island, a speck of rocky beauty with no real beaches, but there are a few spots where you can poke the bow of your kayak and make an awkward exit. As often is the case, size doesn’t correlate with beauty.  It’s a gem.

Our little group found one of these spots where five or six kayaks could squeeze.  We tied them up together in a raft and found a substantial root that we trusted enough to risk being marooned if it failed. We make our way up what might be called a path to a grassy promontory overlooking the San Juans.  We made our little lunch and enjoyed the infinite shades of grey.  I like overcast days sometimes for this reason.  Grey forces you to focus on the shape of things, not the color. Maybe that explains my predilection for black and white photography with a grainy Ilford film.

The wild roses were in bloom.  Fortunately they bloom for a long time and the life cycle of the rose blossom was represented, from tiny buds to flowers, spent flowers dropping their petals, little green balls that become bright red rose hips.  It’s all there.  I picked a few of the fattest hips and popped them in my PFD pocket and promptly forgot them.

I found them months later, slightly shriveled with a few crusty salt crystals. I cut one open and found a dozen or so seeds that I set on the window sill in the kitchen.  I wondered about sprouting them and planting them in the backyard.  I planted a few in some potting soil and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

After a few weeks I dumped the little container into my hand and the seed was exactly the same.   Weird.  Or so I thought.

Turns out it’s not weird.  I talked to a friend who works at the local extension office as a horticulturist. I explained my dilemma.  He chuckled and explained that rose seeds need a brutal series of events to allow them to germinate.  The seeds are coated in a pretty thick layer of a fuzz that is full of a hormone that slows germination.  A rose hip needs what he called scarification; something that will abrade the seed.  This can be done physically with a freeze/thaw cycle or a weak solution of acid.

He wondered why I didn’t just take a cutting and dip in rooting hormone.  ”Oh yeah.  I forgot who I’m dealing with here.”  It wasn’t about the roses…I can take cuttings from the hundreds of rose bushes allow some of my favorite streams.  I just figured it would be cool.

Wild roses are thorny, unruly bushes that are almost unrecognizable when placed beside a cultivated rose.  They can call them American Beauty, but to my mind, they’re overdone. I prefer the wild rose with its five simple petals.  I don’t need long stems and a flower so heavy it can hardly support itself. My grandfather loved his roses, and because he loved them, I loved them for him, but that’s where it ended.  Sorry, Grampa.  I’m a bit unruly myself.

Wild roses grow in places that would kill a hot house cultivar in a country minute.  It makes me wonder if our soft lives are putting is in a place where we’re we’d be as fragile as Apricot Queen Elizabeth’s Grandiflora or a Pompon Grand Alba if things got a little hostile.

Like most people, my life has hardly been smooth sailing. I’ve been ground up a little, maybe to remove that stuff on me that kept me from germinating.  I’m not the best looking rose, but I have had a lot of experiences that have allowed me to grow into a pretty substantial Bush.

I know some folks refuse to germinate.  They are either coddled to the point where they’re petrified to be scarified so they can grow.  We’ve all known people who are content that way.  I feel sorry for people who have had unlimited resources to protect them from the grinding that hurts, but is necessary to understand others…to develop compassion, to learn to endure the scarification with dignity and some grace.

The hot house cultivars (I just have to mention Grandiflora Romneyii) ultimately fail under conditions that most of us experience on a daily basis.  Running out of money before running out of month. Wondering where you’re going to find the $400 to fix the car that blows a head gasket.  Finding that a roof leak is a lot worse than you thought. Finding yourself unemployed, uninsured and fighting a chronic illness.

When life scarifies, it’s good to count your blessings that you’re a Rosa arkansana or R. acicularis. You’re tougher than you think. You don’t need staking when the wind blows. Aphid cower at your robust nature. You’re a survivor.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

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Feb
10

the swim

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This is a little essay that I wrote for the Canoecopia show guide.  Thought it fit nicely here.


34 degrees.

It trickled into my boots, bled through my wool pants, then seeped through the other layers until the full impact spread over my legs. I was standing waist deep in water, my canoe half-full, teetering over a small, mostly-submerged log.

It’s an uncommon sensation. One second you’re admiring the honking nuthatch picking its way over a shagbark. The next second you are aware of only one thing, the nuthatch a distant memory.

There are two kinds of canoeists: ones that paddle a lot and sometimes swim, and those who paddle little and don’t. Those of us who are passionate about canoeing are the most likely to achieve unanticipated moisture. For me it happens rarely, maybe once a decade on a calm but twisty stream; more often in big whitewater. It’s usually an unexpected branch, log, wave or rock that becomes the catalyst for change.

Before...

This was my first flatwater swim since the 1994, so I was due for a baptism. It was March, the day after Canoecopia. A few of us went for the traditional day-after little paddle on Badfish Creek, known for its swift current, downfall and little surprises along the way.

We were prepared and dressed for the weather, and for any out-of-boat experiences. The big blue NRS waterproof duffel is the perfect bailout bag (thanks, Farley). There’s a set of dry everything, one-size-fits-huge. I always carry it for others. The people who swim, not me.

Yet there I was. The blue duffel floated high, still tethered to my canoe, bobbing lazily in the eddy behind the tree that produced my nemesis. We were close to the takeout, I was wearing wool, so I emptied my Argosy, squeegied my legs, emptied my boots, wrung out my socks and got back in. I paddled a little more quickly than normal, but since my core was dry I produced enough heat to say comfortable enough.

...and after.

Back at the car, I cracked open the duffel and found the fleece pants and sweater I keep in there. Oversized, brown and fuzzy, they’re warm and something of a bold fashion statement. I quickly stripped and replaced the lower clothing and threw the brown sweater over my other clothing. Ugly socks and dorky shoes and I was ready for the unfashion show. I looked like a cross between Fozzie Bear and a mudslide, but I was warm, safe and slightly humbled.

It was a good swim.

The opportunity for humility is brought to us in many ways and forms. It happens daily…we’re forced to face our frailties and foibles, and we face a daily choice; embrace the opportunity, or blame the Universe for annoying us, buzzing around our heads like a persistent black fly.

I’m not sure a lot of people understand humility. Our culture tends to think of humility as thinking you suck when you’re really awesome, whereas arrogance is thinking you’re awesome when you suck. The truth is that sometimes we’re awesome and sometimes we suck. Most of the time we paddle along, competent and in control, but periodically we take a little swim. Those little swims are just as important as the uneventful passages. They give the uneventful passages a lot more meaning.

Because life is not about staying dry.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

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Feb
08

sorry…

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…I’ve been writing for real.  As part of my job(s).  I’ll be back soon.

In the meantime…

Think thaw.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

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Dec
17

sampling

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Google maps can be very informative, and also entertaining.

A few nights ago I was getting directions from Canoelover Base to a hotel in downtown Chicago.  I used the little yellow street-view flying dude (see lower right) to see what the entrance to the hotel looked like.  It worked.  The Sax Hotel is across the street from the House of Blues.  Good enough.

Then I hit a button or something and the screen zoomed to North America.  Little flying dude was confused.

I dragged him to a random place in Texas and dropped him.  Not sure why.  I guess I was just curious.

What I suspected in the middle of northern Tejas.  Dry and brownish.

I thought about Arizona.  Boom.  Done.

Sorta what I expected.  Dry and tannish.  What about Utah?  I predict dry and reddish.

Huzzah!  Dry and reddish — but also gorgeous.  Random hoodoo!

I wondered what would happen if I did that in the Northwest Territories.  Cool.

Cool.  Near Yellowknife somewhere.  What I expected.  Green.

So now the good stuff.  What about my homeland, Wisconsin?

First, the random sample of up nort, eh?

Now a random sample of down south.

Of course, a milk truck.  Welcome to America’s Dairyland.  Wisconsin vs. California?  That’s like comparing apples and oranges.  Or more appropriately, milk and a white, strip-mined drinkable lactated product.

Then I decided to zero in on some favorite spots.

The Wisconsin River, looking upstream from the Hwy 23 bridge.

The Bois Brule, looking upstream from Cty Hwy FF.

The Platte from Highway 65/31.

And one of my favorites, the Grant, near Blackjack Road.

Is there any wonder I love this state?

Actually, there is wonder.  I never thought a place could be so consistently beautiful.  It’s a different beauty, of course.  No majestic grandeur of the Tetons or the view of the Pacific from Bellingham.  No rain forests or Na Pali coast from Kauai.  But it is, all in all, more consistently beautiful in its infinite variation.  Make a matrix of landscapes, seasons and weather conditions and you get a pretty wide variety of states of gorgeous.  Think Clue–you know–Colonel Mustard in the Pantry with a Bratwurst.

  • Driftless Coulees  in the Spring during a thunderstorm.
  • Cornfields in the Summer when fireflies are mating.
  • Northern Forests in the Fall when the leaves change.
  • Vast lakes in the Winter, frozen over and covered with a rainbow of ice fishing shanties.
Yep.  It’s that good.  But don’t come here.  Stay in California.  Or Nevada.  Or New York City.  Or Florida.  It gets really cold here and you will die swifty, though somewhat painlessly.  It’s just like going to sleep.  We stack frozen Californians behind the barn like cordwood until we get enough to fill a gravel truck.

I may be exaggerating.  Then again, maybe I’m not.  Don’t risk it.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

 

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Nov
27

aut disce aut discede

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of education.  Not the state of the educational system, which has a myriad of problems, mostly caused by people who are dumb not placing value on education.  Because they’re dumb.  I see a pattern here.

No, I’m thinking about education.  From the Latin (yes, here we go again) educare, which means “to lead or draw out something that is latent.”

In other words, an educator is someone who draws out the talents that are already innate.  From the Latin innatus.

If you don’t like Latin, hey, osores odierint.

Son 1.3 and I just returned from a wonderful experience at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  There we took a three-day course called Hookers and Spooners: Working in Horn, Bone, Antler.  It was not my first choice but Son 1.3 got to pick, and pick he did.

Harley, a retired professor from Luther College, was a delight.  I can only imagine what an effective teacher he was there.  He normally teaches Scandinavian wood carving but added this a few years ago as he enjoys working with the materials, in addition to the history of how people have used these materials as nature’s plastic before there was plastic, especially horn.

The class was a collection of all sorts of people.  The thing they all had in common was a desire to learn something  new.   There was a wide variety of skill levels in the class — from an art professor (sculptor) to a counselor who does little with his hands but a lot with his brain.  He caught on quickly.  No one was there to prove how much they knew…they were there to learn.  No ego, no boasting, just quiet learning.  Praise for others’ work was frequent and sincere.  It was a great few days.

What came out of this was a desire to keep doing these things.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be making anything really amazing out of bison horn, but at least I can.   Skills are all valuable, and skills such as these may lay dormant for years and surface as a need when you least expect it.

In the end, even if the items made are less than useful, easily purchased or less than perfect, the process is the goal, not the stuff.  I spent a few hours making a crochet hook which I could by at the drug store for a few bucks.  But I made it, and I enjoyed making it.  I also broke three or four really nice pieces during the carving process.  ’Sokay.  Would it be nice for them to have remained intact?  Sure.  Am I disappointed?  Nope.  Because I know how to make them.  I’ll make one again someday.

So aut disce aut discede?  Simple translation – Either learn something or get the hell off this rock.  I have no patience for people who claim boredom.  Boredom is the sure sign of a spectacularly non-creative and undisciplined mind.

Please learn something today.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

 

 

 

 

 

A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall.

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Nov
13

incipit vita nova

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Daughter 1.2 is about the leave the nest for 18 months.  The nest still has a few feathers and bird poop in it, but she’s doing her best to leave her corner of the nest so that another bird can borrow it now and again.

We’re used to her going off to University for five years…but since she graduated she’s been here, temping a little, babysitting a little, and reading a lot.  Get it while you can, Chica.  Your reading list is about to be limited significantly.  In a few days, you’ll be sitting in a classroom much like the one I was in, maybe even the same one, cramming your head with Italian verb tenses and vocabulary.  It will make your brain pop, but save the pieces and everything goes back to normal the next day.

Ten weeks after that, you’ll land in Malpensa airport and begin a new life as a missionary. As Dante said, Incipit vita nova.

I firmly believe our society would be better off if its youth were required to do a year of public service.  Whether it’s the Peace Corp, the Military or missionary work, youth benefit greatly from having to do something that a) pays little to nothing and b) is not about them.  Performing acts as part of the greater good transforms a person.

30 years ago this month I departed for Palermo.  I thought I had been taught Italian.  Turns out I had, but it was spoken precious little in Sicily, so there was some adjustment.  I suppose if you learned English at Oxford and you were dropped in the middle of Alabama, you’d have a similar experience.

The next 18 months were some of the hardest of my life.  Struggling to learn a language, adjusting to a radically different culture, and dealing with rejection and sometimes active hostility all don’t do well for someone’s morale.  But that time was also some of the best of my life.

So here’s some advice (unsolicited but a father’s right).

 

1) Absorb just how old the world is.  Not in the sort of prehistoric way, but in that the oldest buildings in the United States are barely old enough to register in Sicily.  It’s not about the buildings…it’s the culture that is ancient.  People have a different perspective when they walk past a cathedral that was built starting in 1193.  It makes you more patient.

Sure, Anasazi culture flourished over 1000 years ago, but this temple in Selinunte has it beat by over a millennium.  And that’s just the Greeks.  Add a few centuries on and you see Phoenician settlements.  Then you get old.  When a building in the US from 1912 is on the National List of Historic Places, it sorta makes you think if Americans know anything about what historic means.

2)  Enjoy the people.  Milano is different, but then again, people are people. If you are humble and open to being vulnerable.  You gotta hang it out there with Sicilians.  At the time I was there, Sicilians were a pretty closed society.  Strangers caused some anxiety, and given the history of Sicily there’s no surprise.  The only country that didn’t invade, rape, colonize, exploit and leave was Lichtenstein.

The Milanesi won’t be that different (other than the justifiable paranoia). They won’t let you into their circle easily, but once in…oh boy.  I love Sicilians more than any other culture I have encountered.  Once you are in, you are in, but it’s on their terms.  You prove you can be trusted and you’re accepted into the family in a very real way.

When Ian and I visited a few years ago, we stayed in a room a little B&B…wonderful folks.  After a few days I asked if I could buy them dinner…pizza.  They were a little surprised but agreed.  Rather than go out, Elvira invited us into their section of their home, something that had never happened before.

So, Sorella, go native.  Ditch your clothes as they wear out and go for the good stuff.

3)  Have a sense of humor.  Behave in a human way, and people respond likewise.  This couple was walking down a narrow street in Sciacca, a small town on the southern coast of Sicily.  I was taking a picture up the street, and they walked into it, then jumped back, as if they knew they were ruining my shot.  I said (in Italian), “no, no…come on, I was just shooting up the street…”

They smiled and started walking down toward us.  As they passed, I said “…but you two have such beautiful faces…”  I went as wide as the lens would go and held down the shutter.  We all were laughing.  It was a beautiful moment.

Italians taught me to be spontaneous.  Grazie mille, Italiani.

4)  The small things make a big difference.   Pay attention to the little things.  Walk into an open door at a normally-closed church, and chances are the parish priest will give you a tour and show you a fresco from an artist you’ve never heard of unless you studied Art History, and even then, maybe not.

You will stumble into amazing things.  Stop and absorb your novelty.  I realized long after I took this picture that it was Piazza Pretoria, where Garibaldi marshaled his troops (the Mille, or Thousand) to ride up the peninsula and mop up for unification.

Ask the lady behind the counter at a small deli in the middle of nowhere if they have figs.  She’ll say sorry, they’re done for the season.  If you say “Dang, I keep missing them as I head south…”  She’ll smile, disappear out the back door and come in with a dozen dark, purply-green figs, shrug and say, “Well, I guess there were a few more.”   If you stick around and share them with the little old guys who follow you into the deli because you’re obviously not Sicilian. They’ll gesture, smile and say, Che brava ragazza

Buy a little bag of ciliegie di mozzarella di bufala.  Nibble a hole in the corner while the proprietress watches and squirt the milk into a potted plant outside the shop.  When she looks startled, tell her it’s more nutrients for the plant.  Then eat the little balls of perfection like popcorn.  She will stare at you, but the 12 year-old kid in the shop will laugh and probably tease you a little.  But it’s another human interaction.

Drive to a little town no one cares about.  I visited one called Piana degli Albanesi, and it was decimated by emigration just before World War II.  A lot of them moved to Madison, so the names on the headstones here match the ones there.  There’s not much, just a lot of signs in both Italian and Albanian, but there was a nice little spring where people gathered for drinking water (to be fair, it was Sunday afternoon and no one was outside except us).  My bet is that a lot of the ancestors of my Italian friends drank from that same fountain.

The water was delicious.  Find your own fountains.

So, Sorella…this is stuff you already know and practice regularly.  Just add to it the love your father sends right behind you.

I love you so much,

Daddy

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Nov
03

slow = patriotic

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On the way back from a recent canoe trip I was zipping along at 71.3 mph without a care in the world.  Until I looked down at my mileage indicator… 16.3.

That’s sick.  Yeah, I had a big fat canoe on the top of the car, but really?  16.3?

That’s when I thought of doing a little experiment.  I reset the mileage indicator, put the cruise control at 70 and measured for five miles.  Then at 65, 60, 55 and for just for yucks, 50.  The results were surprising.

 

GAL/M is gallons per mile, CPG is cost per gallon, CPM is cost per mile.

If you’re a more visual person:

 

Scary cool takeaways:

1.  It costs me 21 cents a mile in fuel only if I drive 70.  If I slow down to a moderate 60, I save 4 cents a mile.  No big deal, but at 15,000 miles a year…it’s about 600 bucks a year.  If I drive 55…that savings goes to $750.

 

2.  If I get 16.3 mpg and drive 15,000 miles a year, I am burning 920 gallons of gas a year.  That’s a lot of gas.  If I get 19.8 mpg, I burn 757 gallons.

3.  If everyone did this…the results would be dramatic.

Instead of whining about gas prices, how about we all just slow down?  President Obama could re-institute the Carter era 55 mph national speed limit, done at that time to save fuel and to help us achieve independence from OPEC.  It was a political act as well as an environmental act.

Granted, some of the Tea Party people would scream that speed limits aren’t listed in the Constitution, and that the Founding Fathers did not want to restrict the freedom of people to go really fast.  They also didn’t specify that anyone without a reasonable understanding of history should get a lobotomy.  Maybe they should have thought of that.

When Reagan was elected one of his first acts was to eliminate the speed limits.  ”We shouldn’t be in the business of telling states how fast their citizens can drive,” or something like that.  Okay, sure.  Oil companies loved this.  It was an adolescent “you’re not the boss of me” statement, and just about as mature.

The immediate effect would be staggering.  Gas prices would fall within weeks.  We would produce less greenhouse gas.  And best of all, we’d all slow down a little. We’d see things on the side of the road, take roads less traveled and relax a little.

Coming back from delivering a boat to Milwaukee last night, I took the interstate there.  18.2 mpg.  Coming home — Highway 18, winding through picturesque towns and along beautiful little lakes.  I had to slow down to 35 five or six times as I passed through a hamlet.  It was no hardship.

Gas mileage coming home: 22.8.  Extra time taken (measured by the GPS): 13 minutes.  That’s 13 extra minutes I got to spend holding hands with my wife.

Think about it, America.  Slow is patriotic.  And it’s better for your brain.  And you get to see more scenery like this.

Instead of this.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

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