Derek Johnson Muses

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End of the Season

It’s that time of year again. The end. The last time I go to certain fields before they are harvested.

Almost in

Almost in

The time our family visits Lake Michigan.



And the time of year my writer’s block gets as bad as it ever does. My focus is divided, and the last thing I want to do is plop down at my computer during the middle of football season and waste my energy on a post that no more than 30 people will read by this Christmas.

But here I am.

I sweated and toiled all summer. I gardened and froze and pickled until the life flowed out of me. I mowed, in essence, three lawns. Now, I’m picking apples from a neighbor’s tree. (If you live near Seward or Lincoln, you’re welcome to have some.) All the while, I’ve kept up an active travel schedule that’s left me feeling like I have nothing left to give. And, with all this running around, I’ve felt that I haven’t needed to share it with anyone. Which has lead me to the question, do I need to consider doing something else with my time, maybe even a major life change? d

In my adult life, my actions indicate that I want my daily routines to change as little as possible. Yes, I run through different causes and jobs, but the basic routine of kitchen work/writing/household choirs, all of that has stayed the same. I try not to cling to things (hey, people tear it up and move all the time), but homeostasis gives me a lot of peace. A lot. Maybe even too much.

One more trip, and I won’t be making the long circle through Iowa and Illinois. Eventually, there won’t be apples to pick, and the garden will be winterized. After that, who know what I’ll do.

Close and Personal

Close and Personal

I’m not Supposed to Complain, but I will Anyway


So Far Away

In one of my recent posts over on Huskermax, my commenters went off on how negative I was, and I got to thinking: I am kind of a Conan-cynic type.

When things don’t go my way in life, I handle it the way a person is supposed to: by focusing on my failures and setting a low standard that so I can pretend I’m doing fine. Okay, seriously, I should offer real (faked) insight.

As I scrolled down through the post I’ve written since last summer, I saw a lot more of that doom and gloom. I wish I had something to say that was encouraging and that brightened your world, if only for the sake of just being positive. Something like “there’s always a ray of the sunshine in the midst of even the worst storms”, that kind of Hallmark garbage. But I can’t, and honestly I don’t want to.

The truth is, the world is a really hard place, and sometimes you can be the person you are and it’s still not fulfilling. And maybe the point is that life is not supposed to be fulfilling this side of heaven so we don’t stop trying. Feelings can only take you so far; your objective state in life can be so much more.

The Invisible Mound

Pile up at the bottom.

Pile up at the bottom.

I’ve written over 300 blog posts over the past two and a half years, not counting the post I’ve written for other sites. Over the past six to eight months, I’ve thought some about compiling these posts for a book or something, and a few weeks ago, I started dumping them into random files on my computer before I realized that this wasn’t the purpose of why I starting writing this blog to begin with.

I write first and foremost to get out the evil voices in my head that drive me crazy. When I started blogging on WordPress, my head was overflowing with thoughts I hadn’t expressed. I still can’t believe I would post something every day when I started writing, but it eventually slowed down. Eventually, I just ran out of things to say, which I was fine with. But given how many hours I’ve put into this, there is that sense that I should do something with all the words lying around here.

I recognize the pattern I’m in because I’ve been here before. I start on a project and I feel this rush of energy from the new challenge and experience. But after a while, the energy burns off and I give up and let it go. That’s part of who I am, and some of those project weren’t supposed to work out. But I also recognize that at some point, I may need to take a writing class or read a book on writing, so that I don’t keep churning out material and letting the thoughts wash away in my mind.

I’m back where I started. When I began writing this blog (and taking photos of my time on the road), I felt desperate to have a sense of accomplishment from the miles I spent barreling around the Midwest, nothing to show for it. Now, I want something to show for it again.

Corner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin

Corner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin


The day I turned twenty was my junior year of college. It was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays that fall were my busiest days for classes. I only had time to rest and reflect around 10 P.M., after Vespers, and I remember my friends giving me a card I wish I could still find.  



Yesterday was my thirtieth birthday. I got up early and went to men’s morning Bible study for the first time in a while, and had one of my favorite lunches, biscuits and gravy and eggs. I caught up on rest and reading and made pork in the crock pot for dinner.  I had a New Glarus Beer (a Wisconsin brew I’ve brought back each of the last two years), and sat down to write this while I watched the baseball playoffs and Big Red Wrap-Up.

On my birthday, I love to take a long, contemplative walk, this year Branched Oak Lake. The wind blew hard, and in the end, I spent less time contemplating and more time reading. Reading was my present to myself, and I need to fill this brain of mine. I need to find that one book I can sit down and get addicted to.

I suppose this is the end of my youth or something like that, which to me doesn’t matter. I feel old already, and I don’t have a wife or kids, so I’m untangled in that area of my life. The older I get, the more I contemplate what could have been. I always think of one course I know I should have taken many years ago, but I never did. The results of what that could have been, I don’t dare imagine anymore.

So here’s to a new decade and a new stage in life. I hope I continue to learn, grow, and changed, and most of all serve you better.



Could I Live in the Big O?

Omaha Skyline from the Bob Kerry

Omaha Skyline from the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, Spring 2010

The last two times I drove from Ames to Seward, I lingered in Omaha for a few hours, once on a busy Friday evening, the other instance on a dull Tuesday afternoon. Omaha is one of the few places where I think to myself when I’m there, I could live here. There are few other places I’ve thought this same thought, like Idaho; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; and Fairgrove, Michigan, although the latter two do have snow issues I find taxing. I think the reason I think this about Omaha is it appears to be a self-contained, hardworking community, but with a bit more bustle than what I’m used to. There are a lot of things to do, although that doesn’t interest me as much as it would have a few years ago.

If you drive down Dodge Street as I did on Tuesday, is you see Omaha change time periods before your very eyes, from run-down working class, to revitalized, to 1950’s maintained-and-respectable, all the while on steep, barely manageable hills, to 1970’s Tomorrowland, to 1990’s and 2000’s land of strip malls and developments on rolling flatlands west Omaha. Having been to Boise just this summer, I was struck by how much the Omaha built in the last twenty years resembles a city risen out of a desert in. Like all communities built in the last twenty years, west Omaha is full of tan fake-rock porticoes and fountains, all of which sparkle in the sun.

I had bought a Chic-Fil-A sandwich in mid-town and drove out to Zorinsky Lake in the west end to eat lunch and walk. I had strolled around the lake several times three or four years ago, and it was odd to be back in there, amid the mass of mid-day joggers and walkers. I felt as I were intruding on their private paradise, but I was going to take a walk anyway, and it couldn’t think of a better place to do it.

Ed Zorinsky Lake in 2010

Ed Zorinsky Lake in 2010

I used to linger at coffee shops and parks a lot in the past, and it’s something I don’t do as much anymore, given how much I’m involved in. I did read a few of the articles I had earmarked for my Kindle, but that was it. Now I leave a few minutes early rather than stay a few minutes too late. The laundry I had to do would be worth getting done.

After my walk, I went to the Starbucks on West Center Road and had my second pumpkin spice latte of the season. I could have made due with just a regular cup of coffee, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometime in the last couple of years they remodeled its sterile gray walls into textured dark black, giving the room a more old-world-factory feel. Just the kind of look upper-middle class people want to make them feel cultured.

Right now, I can’t envision circumstances that would cause me to move, even though I know such circumstances will come at some point. I would have to give up a lot if I did move there, my church community and my other friends here in Seward, but who knows what kind of opportunities will come along? The only thing I know for sure is that if that day does come along, it will be one of the most unusual days of my life.

August Daze and Winds of Change


Seward Square…

The turning of the calendar to August marked the three month anniversary of my move into my new home. Three months is a season, so a new chapter has been written and something has changed in my head. I can’t wait to find out what that is.

Walking around my new neighborhood is different because of the heat and the trails don’t feel as wide open. Instead, I walk down to the square and sit read or just watch for people. I’m surprised more people aren’t around the square in the evening, but I suppose if there were more people there, I wouldn’t feel like sitting there and reading.

I always enjoy seeing children and young people hanging out and playing around the square, or on the street outside my house. I wonder if the teenagers are dying to get out of this cracker-jack town like I was when I was their age. (Hope their plans for that go better than mine did.) Sitting out there watching the kids from a bench I wonder to myself if I would have been better off leaving this place.

I had grand plans for leaving this place in high school. I didn’t talk about them with most people but simply went on thinking that I would find a new place to call home, because I knew in my heart this wasn’t my home. I still don’t feel like Seward is my home, even if all visual evidence speaks to the contrary.

Even recently, I still feel inside that God is calling me to leave Seward. I’ve seen evidence to that in the last year, but no path has come together, and given my history, I feel I shouldn’t leave this town without certain things in place. But God is still telling me that He has plans for me elsewhere in this world. Maybe I’m just coming up with this stuff as a way to blame my problems on circumstances. Even if I leave this town, I’m still the same person with the same problems, and I can’t expect everything to magically change. But maybe if I don’t expect everything to change, I will make the most of a move…, oh forget it, I’m reasoning this all out.

Road Downtown...

Road Downtown…

Writing has not come as easily this summer. Maybe I have not been putting as many good things into my head, maybe I need more meaningful interactions and clear some things off my schedule. I do spend more time into editing, to see that the hours invested writing projects don’t go to waste. but I can see things in my past that I left unresolved. At the time, it was the easiest thing in the world not to do anything about certain things, but they have caught up to me now. It’s time to take action.

Writing Road Notes

Open Road West of Flint

Out There…

Last year, my main method of writing while I traveled was to type notes on my iPod touch during lunches and driving breaks, but this year I haven’t done that as much, for two reason. One, as I have gone back through old posts, I have found that this writing style leaves me with an incoherent narrative, a problem similar to the problem of tweeting-thoughts are broken into too many pieces. If I sit down the day I get back from a trip, I can write a more focused, direct first draft while it’s still fresh.

Two, I just feel more hurried when I’m away from home. I have a house now and wanting to spend time there, given what I’m paying for it and how much I have to do to maintain it. Either way, whenever I’m on the road, I think more and more about how long it will be until I’m back, although Tom staying at my place now relieves my nerves.

The road can be such a lonely place at times. Maybe it’s no more lonely than the rest of my life, but I still feel so isolated when I’m out there, passing miles of other truckers and minivans packed with kids on summer vacations. The gas stations, the hotels, and the restaurants are all same, which is a very comforting thing. But as the wear of the temporal adds up, I have to accept the confidence to let certain details melt away and remain on the asphalt, trusting that if that colorful mural on the side of an aging brick building in central Wisconsin is really significant, I’ll remember it when I get home and write it down.  All part of using the judgment of a good writer.

Whenever I would stop at a rest stop in central Michigan to write about how the shops in Small Town X were, I was doing so out of an insecurity of a novice who was sure he’d forget. Not that I’ve mastered the craft, but I’m more confident in letting the narrative form in my mind. Now I’m ready to face the silence of the road between my destination and home.



Introspection: Write Well, Not Just Often

When I started writing this blog, I was overflowing with thoughts. For the first few months, I gutted posts out without forethought, and somehow, managed to put up a post or two a day during the mild winter of 2012 (don’t ask me how). Gradually, I saw how it was self-defeating to push my work into the archives so quickly and pulled back, going closer to a post every two to four days. Since May of 2012, I’ve averaged about 10 to 11 a month, which seems about right.

But through all this, I’ve wondered what my long term goals should be. Yes, I love to write and I’m sharing about topics that I care about, but it’s weighed on me as to how many productive hours to sink into this venture. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that you can stay at the beginner to average level for a long time if you don’t do anything to improve.

That’s why I don’t write about sports or TV as much as I used, only when it comes out easily, and I don’t take the time to polish it as I would a piece about travel that I might republish. But still, the more I write, the more I ask myself: am I getting better at this, or do I make the same mistakes in every post? Can I use what I’m putting up here in a book down the line? Will a publication read this stuff and want to hire me?

Last week, I went back to the travel posts I wrote last summer and pasted all of them into a single word document. It covered twenty single-spaced pages. I have read part of it and have tweaked two pages of it. I’m grateful that I wrote all of this stuff down, and when I reread it, I can flesh out the details and improve the flow. Here’s to making it the best it can be.

Random shot of downtown Lincoln

Random shot of downtown Lincoln

Idaho Stops and Observations


Shoshone Falls, low for this time of year due to low snowfall and irrigation needs.

(First part of the trip)

Monday and Tuesday, my father and I visited our fields in Idaho along the Snake River Canyon, some geared toward next year, some at work for customers now. It’s an important part of the business, to let the people we work with know they are part of our BRH team and that we care about helping them raise the best crop possible.

Go for Green!

Go for Green! (Alfalfa, that is)

Idaho has become a much more diverse place agriculturally speaking. Our dealer told us potato production is down from what it had been, but guys will still move potatoes up in the cycle if the price suddenly goes up. They plant corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa (as a serious crop), soybeans, sugar beets, onions, and even radishes as a rotation crop. Everything is watered to death, but it has to be. It’s either dump water into the foot of earth above the lava rock that is buried under the ground, or nothing grows but sage brush. It is possible to turn some of the unfarmable ground into workable ground, but it requires a lot of time and money.

Many of our foreages are grown in the Snake River Valley near a town called Bliss, which according to our grower, “is a town with a happy name where no one gets along.” He says a third of the people are retirees, a third farm their tails off, and another third wish to do nothing whatsoever. Of the massive sewage facilities located to the north of his farm, he claims they were built in haste years ago before the housing market collapsed, when the city thought  thousands of Californians would immigrate to Bliss in the next ten years. Instead, Bliss’ stated population remains beneath 500, and the only Californians who moved in are trying to sell their huge houses on the river banks for more than million dollars, without takers. If you are going to build a house twenty minutes from the nearest competent grocery store, there are a lot more attractive locales to build it. The Tetons, for example. (Reminds me of other small towns.)

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

In fact, California immigrants seeking refuge from excessive taxes and high costs of living make native Idahoans quite chatty. The Boise metro area is a mass of urban sprawl, with half-a-million dollar houses next to front yards with goats herds and a single cow together. (Really? You’d think the goats wouldn’t stop bothering the cow.) Our contact near Boise told me that, when the demand for land around Boise was high pre-housing crash, a number of farmers were reluctant to sell, which resulted in the patchy neighborhood structure.  

Thankfully, we also had some time to visit some great places, like the World Center for Birds of Prey (where I had been as a kid), the Idaho State Capitol, and Bronco Stadium. As I did in Madison last year, I got a glimpse of the blue turf, even if the thrill of running through the stadium without authorization was withheld. Boise seems hipper and cleaner than either Lincoln or Omaha (the lack of snow helps), but even with all of the modernites who’ve come from California, the city still looks like middle America from the inside. 

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Closest I’ll get to the Blue Turf

And here’s what I found to be…well, quirky.

Stinker’s gas station-Okay, the skunk mascot is kind of cute, but you’re ripping off Bucky the Banger, the University of Wisconsin’s mascot. The red trim is just insulting. And who would buy gas from an establishment that puts bad smells into its name? Selling gas is the same everywhere; don’t screw it up.

The fake rocks every other shopping center or high end home uses-you’re Idaho, why are you using fake rocks when you could literally go out to any field within a ten mile radius and fetch actual black lava rocks to use in construction? Okay, it looks pretty, but it just blinds everyone when it’s really sunny. Which is pretty much every day.

Yards full of every last truck, tractor, and other farm vehicle the farmer has ever owned-I was told by someone who grew up in Montana that the far West farmer never get rid of any of their old vehicles or equipment because they may need a part of that old tractor when their current tractor breaks down. Okay, I get that, but still, does the world need to look at such a mess in the middle of your yard?

Boise State’s Hipness-I walked into a Boise State fanshop, and it was literally a mantle full of every possible combination of orange and blue. (Does anyone know how much BSU has ripped from the Denver Broncos?) There were not a lot of wall hangings and T-shirts with game dates and opponents on them, like you see in a Nebraska fan shops. Even the wall hangings they had mixed in the orange and blue. Husker Nation, we cling to the past.

Thanks, Dr. Walther

I had a joyous experience Tuesday night. I had the privilege of attending the coordinating council at St. John as the rep from the worship committee. Finally, I was hanging out with the cool people and have made a small step toward becoming one of the elders.

Not only that, but I was also privileged to read the group’s devotion and choose a daily devotion from God Grant It by C.F.W. Walther. The devotion covered John 3:14-15, and was on new birth. Even though I read it at home before the meeting, hearing myself read to the group was a bit surprising. Dr. Walther had a way of piling up words against each other that we don’t hear in today’s diction.

“our bodily birth gives us a bodily life and natural movements, desires, wills, understanding, and powers…” (p. 472, God Grant It, Concordia Publishing House. Translated by Gerhard P. Grabenhofer. 2006)

“a born-again person…thinks, judges, speaks, and lives according to the Word.” (p. 473, God Grant It.)

For a young man who was eager to be in a place of church leadership, I’m glad to remember how little I really know. Today, we read news stories and blog posts that say, “Bill got up. He ate breakfast and went to work. His boss supported him.” Walther hammers on points, making them over and over again, one sentence after the other. In our modern twitterverse, you will rarely hear one person expound the same principal in such a way, for fear of loosing audience. Which you will if you are too repetitive.

A hundred and fifty years ago, when sermons would last an hour and political debates three. Now, pastors I know tell me that they have, at most, fifteen minutes of people’s attention until their eyes start glazing over. Our technology in America today is amazing, great, and a blessing from God, but we should never think that we are so much smarter today than we were fifty years or a hundred years ago, even if we have a greater libraries of information. What we do with information and using it well is what counts for something.

So thank you, Dr. Walther for knocking me off of my pedestal. 


Trailways to Dubuque

This spring, I wanted to visit my friend Tom in Dubuque and didn’t want to drive. I know that by the end of this summer, I will be so tired of driving I will want to throw up, and these miles would count toward that. Other than driving, there’s only one way of transportation to get to Dubuque, and that’s Trailways bus.

Taking the bus was better than taking the train. It was indirect-an extra hour or two was added because of the stops we had to make, some of which were miles off the highway in campus-town Ames and downtown Waterloo. In the end, I got to read a lot and watched a couple of movies I wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten to see: 2008’s Journery to the Center of the Earth, 2010’s The Karate Kid, a Veggie Tales‘ episode called “Lord of the Beans” (forgot how funny Bob the Tomato is), and Cinderella Man (too bad it bombed-it was good), a movie I had wanted to see when it was in theaters eight years ago, but didn’t because too many other good movies came out that summer. Glad I never rented it.

Trailways does a good job, but they are helped by the fact that not many people take the bus to begin with. There’s still the smell of recycled air you get on planes, but I read a lot of the books I brought, and thanks to the wifi on the bus between Des Moines and Dubuque, I got to watch some college football highlights from last year that I wanted to see. Even if I know what’s going to happen, it’s still feels like a crisp fall afternoon or a Christmas destination game when I watch those highlights.

But the most important part of this trip was getting to see my best friend, who I have racked up a lot of long phone calls and good times together. He really is my brother, and it’s great to catch-up and laugh together again. He’s got a great life; this past weekend, I met his significant other (finally!) and saw his friends, all of whom are awesome and great Christian persons who encourage me.

Saturday, I volunteered with Tom at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, clearing away leaves from rose beds and putting the leaves back on once the plants had been fertilized. It was great exercise, and we got to met a man who had grown up in Michigan just west of where our grower is and went to college in the Upper Peninsula, an area that has always fascinated me. It’s amazing how Michiganders, Wisconsinites, and Minnesotans live in 40-inches of snow per year and face snow storms in May just shrug it off.

Railroad on the Mississippi in the Mines of Spain near Dubuque

Railroad on the Mississippi in the Mines of Spain near Dubuque

Sunday, we went out to the Mines of Spain State Rec Park just south of town, to hike and enjoy the sun. The Mines of Spain are exactly what a great park should be: open prairie to walk, hills and cliffs to climb, and a majestic body of water. The birds were out, singing their spring songs and displaying their colors. Like I saw in Kansas, the countryside hasn’t been overrun with green summer growth. But that will change son.

And the best part of the visit? Tom telling me that he’s moving back to Seward for the summer and that he wants to stay with me while he detassells! It’s going to be an awesome summer!

Days Gone By

Ever since I got past the initial burst of buying the house, I hit a personal slump with less to do. I even found out today that the loan is on schedule and I don’t need to do anything for that for a while. With great relief, I’m doing my taxes; this year, the money is more important than it normally is, given what I will have to invest in the house.

I’m in a bit of a writing funk, pretty typical for this time of year. If I’m going to write, I need a lot of walk-outside, free-headspace time on the trail, and the current weather has restricted this this. It hardly feels like I’m two months away from hitting the road to go and see little corn plants popping out of Wisconsin and Michigan soil, ground that is probably now covered with snow. I still try to wear shorts every day that I can, as a way of protesting the snow that still insists on falling.

I’ve stalled on the fiction piece I was working on earlier this year. I have a large chunk of it down, and I have written notes to finish it, but it doesn’t feel as fresh as it did. Of course, all writing goes through phases, and it probably needs a polish. But I worry a lot that it has stalled out after a major revelation, at a point where some of the main characters will need to be very confrontational. Confrontation isn’t always my specialty.

I have followed through on my commitment to listen to more Issues, Etc, and other religious/educational podcasts and regulate out some ESPN radio. It works most of the time, although Issues, Etc, is pretty heavy, and probably does contribute to my need to walk more and process stuff.

But the real affect of listening to theology and reading Christian blogs, it’s realizing all the crappy television and cheap lit I read is full of secularist garbage that keeps me from sharing and living in my faith. Most of this particular revelation comes from a book by Ben Shapiro, Primetime Propaganda, a book about how far left the television is, including breakdowns of specific shows from the last forty years. I knew everything on TV was liberal, but what I didn’t know was that Hollywood treats conservatives with a blind hatred, refusing to hire moderate conservatives who grow up around liberal and keep their politics “in the closet”. Of course, I still watch TV (it’s crack, what can I say), but I do it with understanding that it won’t provide me with any affirmation I need.

And at the center of it all, I think I’m just lonely. My thoughts have turned toward dating again, or at least connecting with people. Perhaps it’s just the natural progression of things, of doing something like buying a home that people usually wait to do until they get married. Certainly, getting married would make all the work I have to do around the house a lot less taxing.

It’s times like this I’m actually happy to go to the office and plant samples, empty the trash, move trays, and mop the floor. I love writing and doing this blog, but I think to myself a lot that I’d be just as happy if I was working with samples every day. Did I just write that?

The Loup River, just off Highway 81

Washed up? Hopefully not yet

At least Holy Week is early this year. I’ll miss midweek dinners at church and seeing my church family on Wednesdays, but I don’t like having to wait until the end of April for Easter. Lent hasn’t felt like the downer it has in the past, because I’ve come to realize that repentance is something to be done in joy, as we are coming before a merciful God, knowing he will forgive us. I’m looking forward to the musical festivities of Easter, and moving forward with the church year. Thanks be to God.


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