On Being A Fifth Wheel

When Robin and I first got together, there were some accommodations required. Her life had been lived in South Dakota up until that point, but mine had been mostly elsewhere. In her case, she was part a group of four couples who had been getting together for years on weekend outings, like renting a common cabin and going skiing, for instance. The process of divorce and remarriage meant deleting one member of the group and replacing him with me, a person that you have come to know as an outstanding chap in every regard. But still … I was the odd duck. The new guy.

Mostly it was a problem after a long day of skiing, when the eight of us would get together in the rented cabin to ease sore muscles and kick back, and the conversation would turn quite naturally to all those past years, when I had been absent. I soon found those conversations, especially those involving her ex, tedious to the extreme, and my nose was often put out of joint as a result. And when my nose is crooked, I definitely become … well … peevish. Don’t believe it? Ask Robin.

Over time, as I acquired history with the group, this changed, but I still remember some of those first evenings as long and mildly dreadful. Let me hasten to add here that the other people in the group were fine folks, and we are friends to this day. It was just me feeling very much the “plug-in” spouse that first year or two.

Eventually one of the other couples dropped out, leaving six stalwarts to carry on. Skiing trips became less frequent, and instead we did more bicycling, all of which was done on the Mickelson Trail. This trail is a gem, following 109 miles of what used to be railroad tracks running north to south through some of the Black Hills’ most scenic territory.

Our group never covered the distance at one time, but would take a portion of the path each year and spend a day pedaling it, while leaving vehicles at each end to get us back to the start. Over the years we covered the entire trail, but only a few miles at a time.

Then there was the year that Robin and I pedaled the whole thing together. That would have been thirteen years ago. We took an easy approach, spending three days on the trail rather than pushing ourselves. This also provided much more time to just enjoy the beauty of where we were at every stage. A Ferdinand the Bull sort of trip.

The leg from Hill City to Custer was memorable in that we started out in a moderate October snowfall which quickly became much heavier and we were moderately hypothermic by the time we neared our destination. Enough so that when we reached the outskirts of Custer we pedaled up to the local hospital and simply sat in the lobby until our body temperatures climbed to somewhere nearer that typically found in living persons. (Did I mention that the day before the snowfall we were bicycling in sunshine and short sleeves? Such is the weather variability in the Black Hills.)

No matter, all in all the trip was a memorable one, and my only lingering question is still: How DO you bury a body which is frozen to a bicycle? Would the process involve an acetylene torch at some point?

(BTW, the music in the video is from the soundtrack to the movie Grizzly Man, and was composed by Richard Thompson.)


From The New Yorker

You know how there is almost always something positive that comes out of even the worst of events? Some sort of learning that it took an intense fire to forge in you. It is such a regular occurrence for me that I regard it now as a commonplace.

Such is climate change.

What could possibly be the positive, you might well ask, in this slow-motion disaster we are all living through? For me, it is a heightened awareness of the fragility of life on our only home, Earth. Change the average temperature what seems an insignificant number of degrees and suddenly whole ecosystems start to fall apart. A slightly warmer winter and certain insects now survive that did not in harsher weather and before you know it entire forests disappear. Bump it another couple of degrees and coastlines all over the globe are completely re-drawn by rising water.

There is little doubt in my mind that the planet might have been better off if our evolutionary lineage had stopped at Neanderthal, instead of continuing on to Homo sapiens. And also little doubt that our species really doesn’t deserve the name it has been given, which means wise man, or knowledgeable man.

I hereby propose a change in nomenclature, and it is that henceforth our species be called Homo ignoramus. Might as well tell it like it is. How well we do in the next decades depends on whether the body of people who understand what is happening can carry, push, drag, or cajole the rest into doing what is necessary. If this effort succeeds, at some future date we could ask for our old name back, or at least an intermediate one, like Homo notquitesureaboutus.

Tell It Like It Is, by Tracy Chapman


From The New Yorker


Our old friend, Ragnar, has been away for an extended period of time. When you are dealing with the long dead, you never know what to expect, really. So whenever he shows up we try to take advantage of the time, as it is always challenging to hear his perspectives.

Hey, Ragnar, good to see you! It’s been ages.

I’ve been busy

What does a Viking who has been deceased for a thousand years do with his time, anyway?

I’ve been going around the world, listening in on conferences at the highest levels.

Conferences of what, may I ask?

You know, governments, scientists, pornographers, weathermen, the usual stuff. I can do that, being dead and all, because unless I want someone to see me, they can’t.

So you’re snooping, is that it?

Poor choice of words, if you want me to keep talking.

Sorry, I meant observing.

Much better.

So what’s your takeaway?

Well, the weather is getting worse.

Okay, got that.

And most of the people who are supposed to be leaders aren’t doing much of a job.

Yes ….

But a few are, and that’s a good thing.

And …

I think that pornography might be the only solid growth industry there is. If it ever issues stock, you should buy some.

Sounds a little unsavory to me.

You shouldn’t take it personally, it’s only business.

But still …

The industry depends on large numbers of people who are totally screwed up about sex, right?

Well, yes

Look at all of recorded history … any sign of improvement in this area?

None that’s easily discernible

There you are.

Were you Vikings any better about s.e.x?

Well … let me put it this way. We were never touchy-feely folks.

And yes?

More like being the pushing-shoving sort

Got it

No Valentines Day … no bouquets

I think that’s enough to give us the picture

You asked

I am beginning to regret it

No ballads … no sonnetsno Hallmark

Been good to see you, don’t be a stranger


Stranger, by Kris Kristofferson


One thought on “On Being A Fifth Wheel

  • Hope all is well in your neck of the woods! We are doing fine here. Let me know if you have any holiday plans


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