Love Reigns O’er Rivers


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The Illinois and Mississippi Rivers converge at and sometimes over a tiny river town that bills itself as the Key West of the Midwest (KWMw). Nearly 20 years ago we celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary with close friends aboard a 40’ catamaran in Key West. Yesterday, the four of us aboard their boat, River Dancer docked for the weekend in Grafton (KWMw) shared a toast to “love so strong it thrives for a lifetime”. We celebrated a young couple who, oblivious to misty rain, said their vows in a woodland atop the rivers’ confluence.


Hand in hand now and ’til forever.

The ceremony took place at Lovers Leap high above Pere Marquette Park. Viewed during the winter when trees are bare – the view is spectacular. Spring’s lush foliage obscures the vista and creates quiet spot where a leap would be more like a tripping off a street curb or playing on a backyard slip ‘n slide. As far as a wedding venue goes – it’s perfect. We should keep our focus on the bride and groom, they on each other, and not on the scenery.

All minds wander a bit during wedding ceremonies. Mine drifted to the namesake of our venue, Pere Marquette, a 17th century Jesuit who set out from north of Wisconsin to find the mouth of the Mississippi. Rumor had it the Mississippi bit the sea somewhere in southern California. With God in his heart, a map maker for companionship, and a paddle in callused hands, Marquette toiled southbound with the current. Just about the time his butt fused with the canoe he learned of irritable Spaniards occupying southern river territory. He accepted local lore that the big river blessed the sea in the Gulf not the Pacific, wisely reversed course and headed back north. Marquette wrote in his journal about a gigantic, horrific creature, a Piasa Bird, he saw boldly painted on the granite bluffs that glowered over the river just south of KWMw.The image was pockmarked with spears and arrows but endured.


Piasa Bird North Alton Wikipedia

The mythical Piasa Bird is an iconic figure that graces many a pub and gift nook along the Great River Road. It’s been repainted over the ages to befuddle tourists not besotted by the continuous loop of Jimmy Buffet wannabes. The Piasa Bird, in my imagination, not the original native artists’, is symbolic of advice for newlyweds. Beginning with it’s head – which should be kept on straight when entering into a lifelong commitment – the creature resembles a bird –dream to fly free – to walk the earth and swim in the sea. The Piasa has the horns of a deer – be gentle and blend with nature. Red eyes – if you bear children there will be sleepless nights. A tiger’s beard – it takes willpower and courage to forge two lives into one union. (Fish) scales – with happiness comes change and transformation. And finally, a long reptile’s tail – love may be eternal – but life is certainly not – decide when it is right to fight or take flight.


Mother & Father of the Bride, Doug & Donna “Love is gentle, Love is Kind.”

The Illinois is narrow, serene river that presents all of its possessions to the Messipi – the “Great Water.” Two streams blend at Illinois Mile Marker 0 and never stop flowing as one body toward their final destination. Yesterday two young lovers leaped into the vast and uncharted seas of marriage. May the spirit of the Piasa Bird and loving support of family and friends ensure that they live mostly happily ever after.

Congratulations Kari & Shane


Ride, Sally, Ride


Who’s That Sailing On a Tin Can? Photo by NASA

There are still 26 days until the Solstice but yesterday we jumped the season, cast off the dock lines, and sailed Ex Libris into summer.   We would never have left the dock without the help of our dock mates who have far more mechanical skills, tools, and how to fix anything experience, than we’ll ever know. It’s not that we’re dumb, as one pal explained to our daughter, it’s just that we know that by admitting what we don’t know (about fixing boats) – friends who know what to do are happy to help – and ready to set sail as soon as it’s fixed.

I like to think of myself as a confident, competent captain. I can navigate, steer, trim sails, scrub decks, sand and stain teak, and cook. Big whoop. Can I rewire the radio and troubleshoot a dead battery? Nope. Fix the hot water heater? Nada. Change the oil – yeah, maybe – if someone would show me how – but there’s no rush here. Does that keep me dock bound? No. I’ve got friends with skills, I’ve got boats, and I can sail.


I don’t look like Anne Bonny in my dreams. Not much. Photo via Wikipedia

I fantasize being a brave, challenging woman of the sea like the pirate, Anne Bonney – a fierce hell-cat of a sailor. Legend has it she drank like a man and pissed like a woman – perhaps a tribute to her tumultuous romance with Captain Jack. BTW –her last words to him when he went to the gallows, were “if you’d fought like a man you’d need not be hanged like a dog.” Johnny Depp wept.

When I wanted to become a sailor – I began with a little boats on small ponds and learned by doing. My learning curve included regular and unexpected capsizing. Two-foot-itis keep me trading up until now – with a big boat on a big river. We have friends who have sailed out of the river and into the bigger waters beyond. Other women more honorable than pirates dream of sailing to the stars. One of them, Sally Ride, was born the same year as me. Dr. Ride worked her butt off and despite the “no balls no sit in the rocket” attitude of the time, she became the first woman NASA allowed to sail off-planet. She retired her astronaut status the 80’s and rode out her time as a physicist inspiring girls to dream like Einstein and create the future through science.

Einstein said we are all related to and by time. Anne’s been gone for over 200 years – Sally just three. Whether dreaming of being free at sea or sailing on a comet’s tail – young girls and their grannies are bound through time with child bearing pirates and lady astronauts. Time on boats is well spent and often best savored in the company of good friends – especially the ones with skills.


Being a STEM Geek is something young girls can do. Dream big. RIP Sally Ride – that lady had skills. Photo by NASA.

Koi Advice for the Class of 2015


It’s only a fish bowl when you look at it from the outside. Image copyright free.

I was the Commencement Speaker for the class of 1976 at a small rural Connecticut high school. The 56 graduates honored me with the task of doling out wisdom to guide them forward. I was 25, 9 months pregnant, perspiring profusely in a humid 90 degree heat wave, and my underwear had fallen off just before joining the end of the procession into the auditorium. Perhaps I am one of many who’ve delivered a commencement address commando style. My anxiety centered on the possibility that my water would break midsentence and the bikini panties tossed into the Girls’ Room wastebasket would be discovered by a perverted school board member. The panties were sort of hippy-ish polyester with a sprung waist band and guys names “autographed” in orange, blue, and yellow. I thought they were funny. None of the names matched any guys on the faculty or the senior class -or so I’d like to think. I also wore my best friend’s long royal blue silk bath robe with a stapled-to -fit hem because it was the only thing that fit.

My address countered Paul Simon’s Kodachrome advice – I urged them to think back on all they’d learned in high school and think about it all. Deciding what to think about deeply and discerning what to pass by – learning to focus on stuff that matters – would be the greatest challenge of their lives.

My son, born shortly after graduation, grew up in a time where paying attention meant keeping your eye on the ball (about 4/10ths of a second), waiting for a red light to turn green (around 120 seconds), and imagining his first kiss (at least 157 million seconds). He grew up pre-Internet and had an attention span that dwarfs today’s graduates. As a professor of education, I espoused research that advised multiplying young child’s age by four to calculate the minutes of their attention span. That meant in 1980, my son could stay put doing anything of interest for a good 16 minutes – long enough for me to pee, change his brother’s diaper, and cook dinner. The class of 2015 can pay attention for about 8 seconds – that’s one second less than a typical goldfish circling its bowl on the kitchen counter.

Today’s commencement speakers need to parse their words into 8 second bites less the audience drift away. So here’s my address for 2015:

Be like a goldfish – take an extra second to look beyond the bowl. These seconds will give you time to pay attention to life for 12 extra hours a year. Oh the things you will learn during these bonus half days! Be grateful for clean water, healthy food, and people who find you to be worth keeping. Swim because you can – it beats listlessly floating on top or rotting on the bottom.


Your bowl. Your time to swim (Rob Q, Roy and Tristan T). Image copyright free.