Author Archives: borealbilly

About borealbilly

i am cursed by nocturnal self-awareness.

dinner with diel

her name is odelia, and she is one of nine children who spent their formative years in a bare walled homestead in the glacial flats near onamia. she was the third youngest child of henry and marie, emigrants who felt onamia represented greater hope than the logging towns of wisconsin, causing a westward drift that ended when their moral compass said “this is the place”. they set up shop and raised chickens and cows and obviously, children. the family lived as close to the earth as the 20’s and 30’s demanded. henry sold milk and cream to the chippewa and transient europeans. marie made sure her children were fed and clean and most importantly, did not lag behind on their chores. 

from holland to onamia. 

go figure. 

i call her aunt diel, but she insists it’s just “diel”. no formal names; no familial names. just diel.

 diel is my mom’s sister.

 on tuesday, i interrupted an infectious round of public service training to take my mom’s sister on a dinner date. she will turn 95 in october and the last time i saw her was at her surprise 90th birthday celebration; a party that filled every table in the gymnasium of st. peter’s catholic church with family and friends. even diel’s baby sister made the trek from california. ninetieth birthdays don’t come along very often, and when they do, there really is no valid reason not to attend.

 diel was waiting for me. she has slowed a bit physically but still gets about and mentally, is as sharp as a tack. she lives in the same house she and her husband marcellus (always known as uncle sally) built in the 50’s. her garden is planted. her tomatoes and beans and potatoes will be off-the-charts good.

 driving through the maze of parallel roads and confused stop lights that define modern-day st. cloud, we talked about her family. even though some of that family are my cousins, i have had a hard time keeping track because those 9 homestead children beget over 45 cousins. to live life and not experience loss only means you haven’t lived much of a life. uncle sally is gone, as are her daughters jane and connie and grandsons joey and chad. 

her appetite is good. we put away the applebees spinach artichoke dip and lime fiesta chicken without much deliberation. i listened.

 she talked about the farm.

 diel said she has been thinking more and more about the farm. how could she not? it was a formative, daunting location during a time when luxury was a full belly or darned socks. it was all about hardship and illnesses and chores and reflexive cohesiveness a family finds when distractions are lacking. she said they were always cold in the winter and always swatting bugs in the summer; that they were always in dirt and mud and yet, when you look at pictures of that family, all of the clothes were clean and pressed and if any dirty skin was present, grandma had yet to locate it. “i don’t know how ma did it,” she said.

 when her mother got sick, diel was enlisted by brothers and sisters to provide care for the family matriarch. when her mother returned from the hospital – a survivor in every sense of the word – she returned to her husband and 9 kids without missing a beat. years later, she had had enough and announced that it was time to leave their winter-time slice of uninsulated heaven and move to california.

 back at her home, we looked at pictures. a decade ago, there was a gathering at the farm and some of the remaining nine got together to reminisce; some for the last time. diel pointed to a picture of the house and to a window in particular. she said that was the room my mom and dad would stay when they visited after their marriage and before the war and before – for them at least – life took a different direction.

 not too long after that sentimental reunion, a bulldozer removed the tiny house that sheltered 11 degroods from every curveball life and nature could throw at them.

 my mother’s sister is unafraid of what life has to offer now. she talks of her blessings and health and really, isn’t that the best perspective? she will continue to garden and keep busy with grandkids and great grandkids and hopefully, will accompany me to dinner again, the next time i am in st. cloud.

 until then, i’m pretty sure she’ll keep thinking about that farm in onamia.

i will too.



when anatomy goes bad

let me get this straight…the right knee is connected to the left hip????? wtf????!!!!!!!! 

all those classes and all those labs and here i was, convinced that the body’s symmetry was pre-ordained and irrefutable. some 6 weeks after my knee surgery, however, i am finding out that the symmetry has nothing to do with fluid motion and now, fluid motion has nothing to do with me. 

it was april 21, 2014 when dr. samuel harms made two small incisions on each side of my right patella and somehow, managed to remove an ice cream scoop’s-worth of meniscus from between the tibia and femur, or as we like to say in cook county “the lower part and the upper lower part of your foot”. recovery has been slow and at times painful, but just when the pain gets bad, i remind myself that this was elective surgery and when that fails, i have pills. 

i have been on my bike, both indoors and outdoors and have even upped the efforts outdoors, which is fine and pain free and damn…it feels good to be in my summertime lycra…as opposed to my wintertime lycra…which is wool…but the problems come when i am off my bike and trying to move like a lithesome, nearly 60-year old gladiator. stairways remain out of the question and so, i have become an elevator jockey, riding between the first floor and the basement of the courthouse where i am either taking my two allotted work breaks or using the woman’s bathroom because it reminds me of a mountain meadow under spring bloom, rather than the men’s, which is like taking a virtual tour through a rendering plant. 

between my limping and gimping, i have begun to notice that somehow, the right knee pain has been transferred to my left hip. under an introspective look at my medical history, this much i know: i have borne no children and heretofore, have never had any ambulatory hip issues. 

until now. 

at times it is a sharp pain but most of the time, it’s just a dull ache. the kind of dull ache my ex-wife described she suffered from whenever i came home from work…or was anywhere around her. 

fortunately, i have an appointment with the good doctor this week and i will be able to at least, convey my maladies to someone who has medical acumen. evidently, my cats don’t care if i am having hip problems. 

i’ll be fine and really, my knee is getting better and as it improves, i would imagine my hip will as well. at least that’s what i’m telling myself. if not, i hope i don’t have to go up a set of stairs to get at my pill bottles. 

as i type this, the mount borah epic is underway in cable, wi. and i am sitting at a table in tofte wishing i were somewhere in the line of 500 riders, twisting and turning along 34 miles of single track trails; each of them striving for the finish line and the beer and brats that are there. good luck to tim “ancient” kennedy, adam “pitbull” harju, and john “norma’s son-in-law” twiest.

my compass always points north

i am going slap-me-silly stir crazy. i have been in owatonna for 4 ½ days, bouncing between my hotel room and the lion’s den adult boutique…i mean my hotel room and cabelas…where nearly a week of immersive septic training has taken place. the class was an intense cerebral whirlwind that knocked the cobwebs off of synapses that haven’t been awakened since sometime during my halcyon days of grad school. it ends with a 3-hour test that wasn’t as hard as i feared and wasn’t as demanding as expected. relief is tangible.

another student, who also happens to be a “public servant” has the same intent as i…and we both end up in our “public servant” vehicles in the nearest subway; each of us hoping to extra pepper jack cheese the last 4 days from our memories.

 “what’d you think?”

 “it wasn’t as bad as i thought”, he says.

 “hey…mccloed county…is it legal for you to drink and drive in your county vehicles? because it is in cook county.”


 “well no, but it will be for the ride home today.”

 the drive means traveling up the north to south vertebrae of the twin cities; doing so on the edge of the memorial day weekend and doing so just as the end of the work day announces its presence with choked roads and people who believe stop and go traffic is a pilates workout.

 i desperately want to be home; away from concrete and halogen and traffic and throngs and fast food and open and hidden agendas and everything that has led me to the north shore… a journey that for me, began at birth.

 i meander through the cities and stop at my brother and sister-in-law’s to offload the empty beer bottles; doing so (conveniently) just as the brats are being turned on the grill. it is 5:30 and considering where they live, i know that not being able to hear traffic on the freeway means the traffic on the freeway isn’t moving.

 after eating, my brother and sister-in-law sense my antsiness…they have seen it dozens of times.

 on a good day, travel to lutsen from this point is a 3 ½ hour affair, including several stops to do what aging men on solo journeys do…look for adult boutiques.

 against better judgment (story of my life) i enter the stream of slowly moving vehicles headed towards polaris and exhibit all the public servant constraints i can…i let people merge…i do not tail gate. most importantly, i do not make eye contact.

 it takes an hour to travel 25 miles to forest lake. on the way, i begin to identify those motorcyclists who will not survive the summer…i also identify the distracted and impaired drivers…because i am one of them.

 i do not stop at hinckley. i do not pass go. i pee in a cup. i accelerate. my shoulders relax. everything in the rear view mirror is but a poorly digested aftertaste.

 the oaks and plowed fields give way to pines and spruce and fir. the sun casts long golden-hued shadows. the head of the lake still supports nomadic chunks of ice. the four lane highway turns into a meandering slice through rock and deep forests.

 every trip north reminds me of why i love living where i do and why, whenever i am away, i can’t wait to return home.

the bowels of the beast

i arrive before the store is open; before the imagined throngs of sportsmen and sportswomen come-a-calling to make their camo and survival gear purchases or perhaps, invest in a new eviscerating implement. a doddering gray-haired woman lets me in. i ask “where is the septic training?” and she points to the back of the store “back up there, up the stairs and take a right at the mountain.” “you mean the mountain with all the dead animals on it?”

“exactly”, she replies. 

with that, i have entered a cabelas for the first time in my life. to me it represents all that is bad and over-processed…just another conglomerate superstore that has silenced the pulse of small town businesses from many small towns across the country.

i don’t go to wal-mart either, but that’s because i am deathly afraid that someone will take my picture and post it on “”.  

owatonna and cabelas and septic training seems an odd triumvirate, but upon my drive to the hotel, realized it could have been owatonna and the lions den and septic training. the lions den is an adult “themed” store conveniently located off of i-35. the random thought of me going to its front door at 8 in the morning stating “i’m here for septic training” is unpleasant at best; even more so when i think i could have ended up in a seedy booth with a roll of quarters and none-the-wiser about the science of septic treatment. 

we are tucked away in one of cabelas hidden rooms, behind camo facades and walls thick with pictures of ancient hunters and fishermen and whiskey-soaked grins that beam at their gathered quarries. somewhere, i imagine, someone in the store is skinning all types furred and feathered critters so they can add to their dead animal collection. 

even inside the store though, it smells like farming. if yesterday was the smell of arbys, today it was the sheen of manure that has been spread overnight by the manure fairies. 

in a rare upbeat moment, i feel as though i could be in heaven…if heaven was a shit-soaked, darkened alley in the seedy section of willyville. 

cabelas and the lions den and land-applied manure seems the perfect accompaniment to this septic training. it’s no different than smelling patchouli and thinking I should be shopping at the cook county co-op.

MN DNR To Place Biologist in WebCam Eagle Nest

concerned with the likelihood of nest failure at their world-famous webcam eagle nest in st. paul, minnesota, the minnesota dnr today announced plans to place a field biologist in the nest to help the struggling parents feed the two surviving eaglets. nongame dnr head carroll henderson said “we’ve already lost one chick and with the chickadee check-off funds running low this year, we can’t afford to send another baby eagle to the raptor center.”

questioned about the decision to place a camera on a nest where defecating and viscera and death were real possibilities, henderson said “well…we put a caution note for viewers and they should know when something bad is going to happen…i mean, most people watch the discovery channel, right?…and right now, this has nothing to do with nature, it’s all about the ratings.”  further pressed to reveal the name of the surrogate biologist/parent, henderson turned evasive and said “she doesn’t know yet, so we’re trying to keep it quiet, but she is in for a real surprise.” referrring to the loss of the first-hatched eaglet, henderson said “it was unfortunate we didn’t have a biologist up there sooner, because our (agency) biologists could raise a nest full of eaglets better than the most seasoned pair of adults. afterall…many of them have four-year college degrees.”

when asked if the placement of a human in an eagle nest was interfering with nature, henderson said “no more than people slowing their car down when a deer crosses the road or when people put on deet during the steamy nights of july to fend off bloodsucking insects.”

pressed for details on when the biologist would be in position and what her tasks would be, henderson said “she’ll probably go up the next time the camera has “technical difficulties”…she’ll feed them regularly, shoo away the adults with flailing arms and when she thinks they are ready to fly, she’ll just toss them over the edge of the nest. it’s kind of what the dnr does.”

last year’s eagle pair laid eggs in january and the eggs never hatched despite the adults spending 49 days trying to hatch two eggs that would have normally hatched in 34 days. henderson said “obviously, that was a loser pair of adults and there was a point where we almost went in and we were like…give up…but instead, we just drove around in our dnr liquid propane-fueled priuses and mocked the adults.”

when reminded the same pair of adults was responsible for successful egg laying this year, henderson said, “yeah right…like what…do you work for the dnr?”

looking for home brew and gumdrops

how time flies…

i am now well into my second spring, free and clear of owl surveys. i pulled the cord on april 12, 2012 after my fifth or sixth night without owls and after 25 years of mind-numbing, rigorous, repetitious surveys. i don’t miss the excitement or disappointment; i don’t miss the physical degradation. i do however, miss the night and its myriad discoveries. oh, and i miss the owls too…can’t tell you how much i mess them.  

the lack of owl surveys means i suddenly have time on my hand and if i’ve learned anything in life, it is that too much time is bad, as is too much home brew or too many gumdrops or too many doughnuts or chips or anything that, if present, sends a bold-print message to me: make it go away.

that same “zeal” to make food and beverages disappear, seems to have connected with other facets of my life. i tend to become highly enthusiastic when something appears interesting and enticing and so, the fact I have morphed into a slave of exercise makes perfect sense. with so many other salacious options, I am proud that my drugs of choice are cross country skiing and mountain biking…never mind springtime owling or home brew and gumdrops cuz those really aren’t drugs.

those are just things I can easily make disappear.

skiing and mtb’ing are no-brainer “drugs” because both sports are purported to be low impact and exhilarating and beneficial and freeing and both can douse one with copious amounts of endorphins and therefore, are perfect for the body as it begins its slow journey back to elemental carbon. of course, the experts don’t mention that if you fall off a rock garden while mountain biking and open a 17-stitch gash in the meaty, underside of your forearm well…it would be considered high-impact; or, if you ski through obvious pain and afterwards can’t straighten your leg because your once pliable knee ligament is fragile, like a tortilla shell left out on the counter overnight…that too would be considered high-impact.

but whether low- or high-impact, the true pain comes when you can’t do either and that is the little table-top flat place in life i now find myself. i am antsy and eager to get on the bike and be done with winter and its encrusted reminder that all this started back in mid-november and has kept coming like a roiling tide.

i have awakened to over 85 daybreaks with below zero temperatures this winter and despite professing to “live for winter”…simply because its end used to mean the beginning of owl courtship, i don’t think i profess to that any more.  now, all i want is to overcome injury so i can again return to the celerity of my youth, whether real or imagined.

countdown to asstacy

over the past week, i have received at least 8 frantic phone calls from the north shore hospital scheduling desk, trying to put me into a more favorable time slot for my pending colonoscopy.

“yeah…9 oclock will work but really, you guys need to relax, you’re shoving a camera up my ass, not launching the space shuttle.”

my joke, created during the demerol-induced fog of my last ahh…”procedure” was that cook county is so behind-the-times that instead of using a fiber optic camera, they use an instamatic.

smile billy.

yes…it is hard to believe that 5 years have elapsed since my last colonoscopy but they have and now i am in the early throes of my low-fiber diet before beginning the colon blow procedure tomorrow afternoon. perhaps this is tmi but isn’t that what blogs are about? aren’t we supposed to reveal our inner secrets and hope for kind and courteous responses? take my polyps.


i am on the accelerated colonoscopy program because the last time, besides trying to fondle the nurses, i was the host for two precancerous polyps that somehow, managed to find a receptive, blood-engorged colon to make their home. they were so cute.

and actually, i blamed my grabby hands on the drugs; an excuse which worked until the nurse told me she hadn’t injected them yet. i best start working on an excuse for my tuesday appointment. of course, if i get a gay male nurse, never mind.

so the owl migration was the lowest i’ve experienced in 11 years, with very few hatch year birds. i kept going out to the nets thinking “this will be the night”…the night where i am a dervish of extractions banding and releases…but it never happened. still, my two humble nets managed to corral around 260 saw-whets, including several that i had banded in previous years.

and now, i am eager to get some snow because it is my goal to lose 30 pounds before the next mountain biking season…and as soon as i am done attaining the 15 pounds gained since the last mountain biking season, i can get to work on those 30.

i clean myself with a rag on a stick.

but back to my colonoscopy. i mean…isn’t that’s what blogs are all about?