Compass plants reach for the sky

Probably my favorite wildflowers here at Three Willows are the compass plants, so named because supposedly their leaves always point north.

For two years I thought the compass plant was a bit of a bust. It had big interesting leaves, but that just made it kind of a fun little bush. I guess it takes some time for compass plants to mature to the point where they flower, and that third year made up for the boring beginning.

For the first few weeks, the then-lone compass plant showed its floppy leaves, same as always, but then one day a stem shot up about eight feet in the air, and a few days after that a half-dozen blossoms burst out. Talk about your ugly duckling transforming into a swan!

The flowers drop seeds as those long stems droop at the end of the summer, and after a few years we have compass plants all over the wildflower gardens. Between the compass plants and the cup plants — who deserve their own story one of these days — the field is a glorious display of green and gold, which is a lovely and appropriate sight not far from the shore of the bay of Green Bay.

Rearranging the furniture again

Regular visitors will notice I adjusted the look of this website on Sunday night. Longtime visitors will notice it looks very much like it used to look back when the blog was hosted by WordPress. I’m still with WordPress, of course, but I’m paying to have more control over the content, i.e., no outside ads, for example.

What I always liked about about this theme, other than it’s simple and easy to read, is the sidebar where you can browse older posts and I can post links to my email newsletter and books. Yes, this website is where I share my addled thinking and fragments of creativity with the world, but its main purpose is to give you an opportunity to purchase the books I’ve written, edited and/or published.

Hopefully the daily shameless self-promotion won’t put you off too much; I’ll still be here on the left side trying to encourage, enlighten and/or entertain you, and this part is free. And subscribing to the newsletter only costs you your email address and my occasional invasion of your mailbox, but in return you’ll get Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus: Episode 1: Journey to the Second Planet, the first third of my long-promised next novel.

My brain has been focused on rearranging the furniture this weekend. Some dear friends came to visit and de-clog my downspouts so that the summer rains are diverted to where they’re supposed to be diverted instead of overflowing my eaves. And when I saw Summer and Dejah frolicking among the weeds that threatened to consume the hostas, I realized it was long past time to mow the backyard.

All the yard work and furniture rearranging, unfortunately, has put me a little further behind on my day-job tasks than I’d care to admit, so I must leave you with this status report and return to my regular musings tomorrow. Feel free to click around and explore the place, and, if I haven’t said this of late, thanks for stopping by.

Here on the other side

I have seen deepest despair up close now. I have emerged on the other side, more or less. The sadness grips my heart again from time to time, but I am starting to feel like I’m coming out on the other side.

And that is my message to those who are seeing deepest despair in the present tense — you will come out on the other side. Of course you will be changed — no one ever reaches deepest despair without a transformation of some sort — but you will climb out and be able to function again. The other side really is over here on the other side; despair is not everlasting.

Oh, much will never again be the same. The cause of my deepest despair is my greatest loss, the passing of my partner and companion, the end of the most peaceful and sweet chapter of my life, the last whispers of a great contentment. All creatures who love suffer loss, and deepest despair must be endured. There’s no avoiding this pain.

Despair is the proverbial tunnel with light on the other side and all the overused metaphors that accompany it. I’m pretty sure I’m not out of the proverbial woods, either. Grief will keep sneaking up on me, no doubt. Today, however, I want to send a life raft to those who are where I was not long ago, to wave from the shore and say, “It’s going to be all right, friend. Different, yes, and never the same again, but you’re going to be all right, eventually.” Yes, you will.

Not alone

Listening in to Bob Goff’s “The Writing Room” podcast, and he asks co-host Kimberly Stuart why she writes. What’s it all about, anyway?

“I write to remind us all that we’re not alone,’ Stuart responds.


That’s what all the stories are about — that’s what all the songs are about — that’s what all the words are about: We’re not alone.

I’ve been there, that dark place where you think no one else possibly could ever have gone. I’ve been there, celebrating with a joy that is surely once in a lifetime. I may not know exactly how you feel, but you’re not alone.

The words are a comfort against the storms storming everywhere and always. They fend off the scary monsters and make us safe. It is the best news a lonely person can hear:

We’re not alone.

buh-wong and it’s summer

The other day “When Will I Be Loved” by Linda Ronstadt burst out of the radio during my commuter reverie, and it was the Summer of 1975.

The highway and the sunshine and the song morphed into the control room of WDUX radio in Waupaca, Wisconsin, and I was a rookie news guy volunteering for an open disk-jockey shift. I think my then-girlfriend was visiting the studio, because I associate her smile with Linda blasting out of the speakers — because “When Will I Be Loved” is one of those songs that deserves to be played loud.

That unforgettable cold intro — buh-wong “I’VE been cheated” — buh-wong “BEEN mistreated” — buh-wong “WHEN will I be loved” and the band winding up to rollick through the song. It is one of Ronstadt’s signature moments, when her powerful voice matched the arrangement like the proverbial hand in glove.

The jangling guitar solo in the middle is note perfect. The recording is a joyous celebration of summer longing, and I danced around the studio in my memory as I rocketed along the highway 48 summers on. 

Music has that power to transport you back to where you were when the song was fresh and new, especially when accompanied by a similar environment. “When Will I Be Loved” just sounds like a summer day ought to sound, and when played on such a day, time travel becomes real.

That studio was special, being the centerpiece of my first professional job. That young woman was special, my first love in “the real world.” That summer was special — you only go out on your own for the first time once. And that song was special.

Music soothes the savage breast, even when the music is full of jangly guitars and the genre is country rock. That was an inspired two minutes.


Red and I met via AOL, talked on the phone several times and were intrigued enough to arrange to meet — the three of us including Son of Red — on Aug. 2, 1997. Coincidentally, we moved into the house we built together on Aug. 2, 2012. So this is a big day on the calendar.

It’s very weird, not having her in this world. I had no idea that emptiness could be so vast or emotion so thick.

“Go ahead, let it all out,” they coo as they try to comfort us. But I wonder if it ever gets “all out.” I suspect the grief just becomes a part of who we are, until one day it’s time for us to go, too. I think someone who bonded with you for so many years is going to be a part of you forever and, every so often, a memory is going to wreck you all over again, and you will be overwhelmed all over again.

The best we can hope for is what happened to me as I wrote that last paragraph: Something shifted in me, and I smiled, and I said, “Yeah, but —”

Yeah, she’s gone, but she fit me like a glove. Our personalities meshed; oh, we liked different things, but we liked enough of the same things to enjoy them together. We liked driving along the water by the bay and watching the geese and whoever else was down there. We liked watching the sunset from the park down the road from us.

Yeah, she’s gone, and I’m still adjusting to that reality, but the previous 25 years were the best of my life, and I’m so grateful she found me, and kept me, and let me stay, and I’m so glad we had those last seven weeks when she was in the hospice and rallied enough that we had time to say goodbye and tell each other how much we enjoyed our time together.

Yeah, she’s gone, but — I’m so grateful she was HERE.

Year 4 starts now

Three years ago today, I posted a little fantasy about how the telescreens of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four came true in the form of the personal devices that we spend so much time staring at. For a title I used the words of an astonished Winston Smith when he encountered a telescreen that actually had an on/off switch: “You can turn it off!”

I had a hidden agenda that day, one I didn’t talk about for a few weeks because I have a habit of announcing grandiose plans and having them fizzle: I resolved to blog every day from August through October, a total of 92 consecutive days, more than I had ever mustered in my years of blogging since 2006.

I made it to 92 and kept on blogging; today marks the beginning of my fourth year as an honest-to-goodness daily blogger. Monday was the (365 times 3 equals) 1,095th consecutive day that I have posted something here at

Lesson learned — no grandiose announcements, just quietly do your thing, right? Wrong. Not long afterward I announced I was writing a new novel about a character named Jeep Thompson and I’d be publishing it in 2021. I did publish the first third of the novel — on May 15, 2023 — and have high hopes of getting the rest of it on the market in time to be under your Christmas tree this year. 

I’ve been doing some thinking about goals for the rest of the year, and I’m itching to share them, but I’ve seen time and time again what happens when I share my big plans.

Lately I’ve been thinking that part of my problem is a lack of focus — when you have six novels in various stages of incompletion, a daily blog and a day job, it’s easy to get in a state where your eyes glaze over when it’s time to write. And so I decided to pick three projects and only three for the rest of the year.

One is the afore-mentioned Jeep novel, which got a boost when the people who have read the first third (What? You haven’t read it? Rectify that by clicking here) not only didn’t hate it but had nice things to say about it.

The second is a short novella or novelette that I have managed never to mention in public. Before now. Oh, I’ve jinxed it now. Make believe I didn’t say anything about a sequel to a beloved Christmas classic.

And the third is the project I mentioned the other day. I’m hoping to generate a little excitement about this project by dropping hints every few days, like this one.

Oh, and I’m still planning to keep blogging every day, so I guess that’s four projects, and I still have the day job, which technically is a fifth center of focus, and — see how this stuff gets away from me?