Alkahest my heroes have always died at the end

June 16, 2009

Eulogy for a grandfather never well known

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 12:42 am

Drafting out a few words for grandpa’s funeral tomorrow…  feel free to ignore.

I never felt that I knew Dick very well.  Of course, growing up, we didn’t call him that.  We always called him Grandpa S.  We saw him once every few years, but with a thousand miles between Baton Rouge and Des Moines, I suppose that wasn’t too surprising.  While it came 20 years later than I would have liked, I have appreciated being here today and at the visitation yesterday, hearing everyone’s impressions of the man that my grandfather was.

As generous as you have all been, I would like to share a few stories of my own.  They define how I remember Richard S.

  • About ten years ago, shortly after I finished graduate school, grandpa drove down from Iowa for the graduation ceremony.  While he was there, he hung several paintings that we had left sitting around the house for a few months; fixed an armoire with stripped screws using toothpicks and wood glue (a trick I’ve used ever since); and started talking with K and me about coming back down to build in some book cases (an offer that we regret not taking him up on).  I’ve also seen work he’s done for others… a cross at his church, a display cabinet at his retirement home, a … well, I’m sure many of you have your own examples.  From this I see Richard as a skilled man generous with his time.
  • One of those examples of his sharing his talents is when he came down to Baton Rouge and helped my father convert the attic into a bedroom for my brother, Geoff, and me.  When it came time to build the nooks for the beds, my father did the practical thing and measured the mattresses to figure out the proper length of the bed nooks.  Grandpa came along and added an extra six inches.  Later, he told us proudly that he did that so that as we grew to be as talk as he was, we would appreciate the space for our feet to hang off the bed.  Now, I might be 5’10 on days when I feel like lying.  Over the past, nearly, 40 years, my feet have never hung off of a bed… unless, of course, my head is in the middle of it.  That I wasn’t going to reach 6’4″ was obvious at the time he was building the room; but yet, it struck me as beautifully optimistic.  An optimism worthy of my grandfather.
  • Another time, the family was visiting Des Moines.  I don’t remember where, exactly, we were, perhaps either Irma’s or Norma’s house and we were making “lefse…”  thin, Norweigan potato pancakes that you spread butter and sugar on, roll up and eat.  My mother had been teaching me and Geoff how to cook and so Dick was telling us how the lefse were made.  Now, if you didn’t know (and I can’t imagine that you didn’t), Richard had a *terrible* sense of humor.  There were puns and shaggy dog stories, all of which I’ll spare you.  So as grandpa had talked us through making the lefse dough he tells us that you cook the lefse in an iron pan and that the iron pan is *very* important.  Well, we were a couple of inquisitive, scientifically minded children.  Geoff and I were learning to cook and I could imagine of a few reasons why an iron pan might be needed.  So someone asked, ‘why an iron pan?’  His face lit up.  In hindsight, you could see it.  He gave us the setup and we took the bait.  Grinning broadly he said, “because Norwegians can’t say Aluminumunumum.”  If anyone has other examples of Dick’s humor, please don’t tell me.  Although in fairness, that might also be why grandpa’s lefse didn’t have cinamoniumum.
  • I’ve covered his skills in woodworking, his generosity in sharing those skills, his optimism and his terrible sense of humor.  In my mind, the last thing that defined my grandfather was his love of God.  You could see this in his relationship to his church and his trips to the holy land.  It was for that reason that K and I asked him to officiate at our wedding.  As the groom, I honestly don’t remember that much about homily, although some time in the 3rd hour, it did occur to me that it might have been a bit long 🙂 .

In all seriousness, I believe that having grandpa officiate at our wedding was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.  It made the ceremony that much more special to both K and me.

As I said earlier, I’ve never felt that I knew my grandfather as well as I would have liked; but I feel privileged to have known him as well as I did.

So, that’s roughly what I’m thinking.  I’ll have to re-read it tomorrow to see if I still want to say it.

June 12, 2009

Richard S., rest in peace

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 10:56 pm

I heard from my mom today that my grandfather died this afternoon.  It wasn’t a complete shock.  He never fully recovered from a stroke a few years ago, was recently suffering bouts of ventricular tachycardia, had just this week been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (which recently claimed Randy Pausch – go watch his “last lecture“), and had signed a DNR order.

I never did know my grandfather that well.  Of my five grandparents, he was the one whom we visited least while growing up.  There’s also the difficulty of understanding someone 50+ years older than you.  And his general Norwegian disposition, a silent doer, made it difficult to know what was in his head. I suspect you got to know my grandfather more by working with him than talking to him.

By the time I was in my twenties, my family started to have more contact with my grandfather.  He drove down to NC for the graduation ceremony.  We talked some about having him down again to help build some bookshelves.  (One of the things I know about him is that he was an excellent wood worker.  He’s built all sorts of furniture, and I think even the cross that hangs in his church.)  That was 11 years ago, and one of the last times I saw him before his stroke: a tall strong man in his early 70s.  The last time I saw him, was three years ago on his 80th birthday.  He was still mentally aware, and remained that way through this week.  We still don’t have any details on his funeral.  I’m hoping we get them soon enough to make plans to travel to Iowa.

Sorry for the rough stream of conciousness post.  My head’s not all here.

June 7, 2009

Vacation notes (3 of N)

Filed under: Gallery,Personal — cec @ 9:58 pm
  • May 24: Memorial day weekend is in full swing and there are idiots everywhere.  I swear that the older I get, the more I sympathize with my father’s dislike of crowds.  We braved a bit of the crowd (keeping in mind that we’re already in the least crowded part of the park) and went up to Floating Island Lake to see if the sandhill cranes were nesting.  When we got there, a coyote was crossing behind the lake and the cranes, who were on the shore at the time, were putting on quite a display: loud squawks (or whatever noise cranes make), spread wings, raised heads, etc.  Basically, everything a crane can do to tell a coyote to go away… which he did.  There weren’t any eggs in the nest yet, so we left and decided to get away from everybody by hiking the Lamar Trail.  That was a very nice hike, we only saw one other group of people, but we did see many hawks and bluebirds.  We got down to Cache Creek and stayed for a while.  The rain didn’t start until we were a mile and a half down the trail home.  That would be great, except that it left us another 2 miles back.  We did have rain gear, but it isn’t very good and doesn’t breathe well, so we didn’t put it on.  Between the lack of rain gear and my putting my hat on the camera, we arrived back to the car tired and soaked, but happy.  A wet day of hiking is still better than crowds.


  • May 25: Memorial Day itself.  There’s no way I’m going anywhere potentially crowded.  We did decide to do a few short hikes to get some pictures.  I went a short distance down the Lamar Trail to get some shots from the foot bridge.  We drove up to Tower Falls (saw a fox on the drive up there).  Unfortunately, the trail down to the base of the falls is still closed, as it has been for 5 years now.  You can hike down a half mile, but there’s not much to see.  That’s a bit of a shame, since Tower Falls is one of the nicer falls in the park.  Warning: don’t try this, it’s dangerous. So, getting fed up with the closure, I slipped over the barrier when no one was looking (for the record, this doesn’t appear to be illegal, just dumb) and hike the last tenth of a mile to the base.  FWIW, I can see why the trail is closed.  There are places where the trail is only 6 – 8″ wide (on one side of the mountain road there was a mountain, and on the other side there was nothin’ – there was a cliff in the air) and other places where there were trees down across what was left of the trail.  That said, it was definitely worth it to see the base of the falls again.  After that, we hiked up to Lost Creek Falls (behind Roosevelt Lodge).  On the way back to the cabin, we stopped by Baronette Peak and spotted a few mountain goats.  That evening, we went out into the park and saw two wolves in the valley.  We must have watched them for over an hour – there was a great deal of very dog-like behavior.  The subordinate licking the dominant one’s mouth.  The dominant one standing over the subordinate, etc.  We found it very interesting to watch – as did a coyote that was following the wolves in order to see when it would be safe to feed off of a nearby kill.


  • May 26: It’s the day after Memorial Day… should be safe to go to Mammoth, right?  Nope, trick question.  There are always crowds at Mammoth.  On the drive up, we ran across a fairly large bear-jam, so we found a place to pull off in order to see what the fuss was about.  Turned out to be a young grizzly, maybe 40 yards from the road.  He had been bathing (missed that) and was climbing on a rock to dry a bit.  We stayed for a while, until the rangers had everyone leave since this bear had charged someone the other day.  Mammoth seemed dry.  More accurately, the water continually moves and has been moving away from the standard board walk areas for years now.  While we were looking at one of the features, we saw some college student reach into his pocket and when he pulled his hand out, his keys went flying onto the thermal ground where he had to retrieve it.  Probably my biggest impression from Mammoth was that it reminds me of one of the central themes from Gulliver’s Travels, that humans are comical when viewed from afar and grotesque when viewed up close.  Both aspects were on display at Mammoth (and in fairness, pretty much anywhere that people gather in numbers).  On the drive back, we watched a wolf crossing the road behind us.  Nothing too exciting that evening, a bear and two (though I only saw one) cubs.


  • May 27: We went out and hiked Garnet Hill today.  There wasn’t too much wildlife.  We did see a day old wolf kill at the start of the trail, but there were only ravens on it.  We saw lots of marmots, as always.  Overall, the hike took longer than it should have.  We’ll need to allocate more time next year.  That evening, we saw a moose and her newborn (that day?) calf across from Trout Lake.  People believe that the moose was attacked by wolves (or bear) and then had the calf shortly thereafter.  The calf was fine, but the moose was a bit torn up, we hoped they would make it.  In the valley we watched a grizzly for a while.  It seemed that he was limping.  We ran into a griz researcher who confirmed that the bear was injured.  The researcher had a baited trap on the south side of the valley.  He hoped that the bear would follow that so that they could provide some help.


June 3, 2009

Vacation notes (2 of N)

Filed under: Gallery,Personal — cec @ 9:54 pm
  • May 20: In the morning, we saw a small herd of bighorn sheep near the Yellowstone Picnic Area.  Later on, we saw a grizzly bear hanging out in the Lamar Valley: sleeping, grazing and hanging out.  Heading back into the cabin for dinner, we talk to our host.  He’s going through a nasty divorce which may wind up causing them to lose their business (for reasons I shouldn’t get into).  Helpful hint: if you’re going into business with someone, even a spouse, set up an LLC.  You don’t want everything to be owned jointly.  In the evening we see still more grizzly.  It’s apparently a grizzly year – it looks like we’re going to have to cruise the Tower Junction area if we want to see any black bears.  On the way home that evening, we saw three moose by the side of the road.  I got out and took a few pictures which were (at best) okay given the lack of light.  Neater than the pictures though, was hearing them tear off the plants and chewing them.  That was very cool.

    dsc_4885 dsc_5101 dsc_5130

  • May 21: We saw quite a few pronghorn hanging out in the Lamar Valley.  They’re very pretty animals, and hey… they can run 60 miles an hour.  As mentioned yesterday, we wanted to head up to the Tower area to scout for black bear and to check out some nests we’ve seen in year’s past.  No perregrin falcon, no owl’s nest, but the osprey did have a nest again.  After Tower, we headed back into the valley to go and hike Trout Lake.  On the way, we ran across a wolf out in the middle of the day.  He was trying to cross the Soda Butte creek.  It took him a while, but he finally managed it.  Anyway, Trout Lake is a pretty little lake up in the hills on the north-east side of valley.  A short hike, maybe .6 miles to it, but it’s all vertical (not literally, but trust me… it’s H for horrible, particularly at 7000 ft above sea level).  Anyway, we hiked up to the lake and around a bit.  There was still snow up there and several different ducks (Barrow’s Goldeneye and a Cinnamon Teal) as well as a Canada Goose (which became something of a trip joke since the geese were everywhere).  We didn’t see any otter this year, but…  That evening, we headed back into the park… more moose and bear (black and griz).  We also got some good beaver shots near the Confluence.  Someone told us about an owl’s nest in the canyons to the west of the valley.  We headed over that way and found the nest.  Couldn’t identify the owl species.   Finally, as the sun was setting and we were losing the light, we watched a wolf chasing a coyote and then making a herd of elk nervous in the hills along the north of the valley.


  • May 22: Our anniversary!  16 years – it’s hard to believe (it’s also hard not to type the joke about having been happily married for 6 years now… 😉 ).  Given how warm it was, we thought a nice hike under the trees would be good, so we planned to hike Lost Lake.  Along the way, we stopped at the “owl’s” nest.  Turned out to be a red-tail hawk – still cool, but not really an owl.   After the nest, we drove up to Tower Junction, crossed the barrier to the (closed) Roosevelt Lodge and started the hike.  We took the trail up to the Lake and then over to the Petrified Tree.  There weren’t too many animals on the hike, but it was still a lot of fun.  On the drive back, we saw a young (yearling?) grizzly at the Confluence.  As we were watching, he got spooked (by a pronghorn I think) and took off running – very odd.  For our anniversary dinner, we went by the “fancy” restaurant in Cooke City – the Bistro.  The food was excellent, but by the time we finished, it was a bit late to head back into the park.


  • May 23: Laundry day (~/o See you there.  Under things, tumbling. o/~).  We asked our cabin host if he knew of a public laundrymat (other than the one we usually use which is kinda nasty) and he let us use his washer/dryer.  That freed us up to drive up to the Beartooth Pass, which had just opened for the season.  There were way too many people up there – it turns out that it was some sort of festival(-ish).  Oh well, it was still pretty.  The evening was quiet, but we did watch a black bear sow and her two cubs rooting around in the valley.


June 1, 2009

Vacation notes (1 of N)

Filed under: Gallery,Personal — cec @ 10:33 pm

As mentioned previously, K and I have been out on vacation for the past two weeks – no phone (okay, there was voicemail), no email, and really very little in the way of computers.  I did take some notes, because, unfortunately, my memory is exactly what it used to be: bad.

  • May 16: An inauspicious start to a vacation.  Neither K nor I were particularly in the mood for heading out of town.  We were seriously contemplating not going next year and possibly even forgoing the plane fare this year and bailing.  I had been putting in too many hours working on a project for work, and K was have some difficult times with her rehab.  That said, we dropped of the dogs and headed out to RDU.  Unfortunately, the Delta/Northwest merger meant that instead of taking RDU->MSP->BZN flights, we were taking RDU->ATL->MSP->BZN (yes, 3 flights) and upon checking in, it seemed that we were going to be delayed in getting to Atlanta :-(  Well, that worked out okay.  We got into ATL at 5:30 and our MSP flight left at 6:35.  Oh wait, no – it, too, was late and left at 8:00pm.  That meant that in spite of the assurances of several Delta and Northwest agents, we landed at MSP at 9:30 – the same time the BZN flight left.  Well, it turns out that we weren’t the only ones in that situation (‘and if you ever find yourself in that situation, there’s only one thing you can do: sing a few bars of “Alice’s Restaurant”‘).  Delta left 17 of us stranded in MSP, while their computers showed that they were only stranding 3.  Delta proposed routing many of us to Salt Lake City (SLC?) where we could catch a flight to BZN in the morning.  Of course, unless we were flying first class, we would have to eat the costs of staying in SLC.  One woman vociferously complained (though it later turned out that she had already been booked for a morning flight to SLC).  When we arrived at SLC, they had hotel and meal vouchers waiting for us (score!).  So a night at a very gracious Comfort Suites capped the day.  FWIW, on the IT front, the Delta/NW merger has been pathetic – at every point where a user interacts with their computers, they have a front-end which redirects you to the appropriate computer system: Delta or Northwest.  It’s no wonder they can’t figure out that they stranded 17 people, they can’t even make good sense of their different flight numbers!
  • May 17: Relatively uneventful.  We grabbed the shuttle to the airport.  SLC is apparently one of the few airports now invading your privacy by looking at your privates through millimeter radar.  They redirected our line through the system where they had you enter the scanner.  They proceeded to use the Twister spinners to dictate how you place your hands above your head while performing a pelvic thrust for the sensors, then getting annoyed when you didn’t understand the first time that you should pretend to be flashing teenage school girls in order to get the posture correct.  Once it was done, they had to fondle your pocket regions.  No, that’s not a euphemism.  The wavelength of the radar is apparently too short to penetrate the pockets on (men’s?) pants and they then have a pissy highschool educated TSA weenie with delusions of grandeur frisk your pockets.  FWIW, I’m equally pissed at myself that I went through the damn thing.  I should have insisted on a pat-down.  If someone is going to violate my person, I want to get a good look at ’em while they are doing it.  Having the person sit in an anonymous room getting their jollies just isn’t cool.  So, once we got through the faux-security checkpoint, we ran into the woman who complained in MSP (and got us free lodging)!  We made it to BZN – though our luggage didn’t, rented a RAV4 and went to our hotel.  The luggage showed up around 5pm.  Lucky for Delta, otherwise, they could have had it delivered to our final destination, Cooke City – 3 hours away.
  • May 18: bought supplies and headed into Yellowstone.  We didn’t see much on the drive in and we didn’t go out to the park in the evening: too tired.  The beds were great (pillowtop mattresses) and the kitchen was very nice.  I wasn’t too sure about having a TV in the room, but having a phone that we could use after hours was nice.
  • May 19: dsc_4817First real day in the Park.  We did get a late start in the morning, but the viewing was great.  We saw a wolf on the northern ridge above the Lamar valley.  People were saying that he was a part of the same group that killed several coyote pups in the valley the night before.  We saw a grizzly bear, a coyote, a bald eagle and a golden eagle (on a old kill).  That evening we went out again, we saw two grizzly and lots of bison with their young calves, also a very nice scenic view, complete with DRAMATIC LIGHTING.  (* all of the images in this series are original jpegs without the color correction, etc. that will be applied later)dsc_4826

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