Breaking, broken…Good, bad…Old, new…Global, national, local…Facts, figures, fantasies…Letters, notes, opinions…All the news fit / unfit to post, print, scatter… Norbert Blei – publisher & editor | Monsieur K. – managing editor

notes, clippings…stuff on my desk


click the image to enlarge…


Norbert Blei

I’m an inveterate ‘clipper’ and have been for more than fifty years. I still have manila folder files and file cabinets filled with yellowed newspaper clips, many of them turned to parchment.

My desk is another reminder of a writer out of control. Coop-Chaos, I call it.

Back when I was fighting our hapless local newspaper, The Door County Aggravate (, open link to Blei at Large & Co., open ‘archives’ on right). BUT, no! I don’t want to go there again. That battle’s been won, lost. A dead issue, a dead newspaper at this point.

Let’s just say, that one of my suggestions to hold and increase newspaper readership (local, city, national),was they open the pages more, including the editorial, to better writers, better writing, more universal subject-matter that might appeal to, dare I say ‘the soul’ of the reader? Nature alone is a sure thing.

The New York Times succeeds in this area brilliantly with the occasional nature essays (“The Rural Life”) of Verlyn Klinkenborg, who appears right smack in the lead editorial column (always the very last editorial ) whenever the spirit moves him. And when it does, it moves me—and many readers as well, given the daily stench of bad news. A rural refresher. Smell the good air.

I usually get to about the second paragraph of one of his poems, I mean essays, and reach for my scissors. Clip, clip, clip…another keeper. Something else to add to the pile of stuff that surrounds this writer. Inspiration. It helps make the world a better place. At least in our imagination.


How the Thunder Sounds

Verlyn Klinkenborg

For the past month, late-afternoon thunderstorms have coasted across this farm with an almost reassuring regularity. After three or four storms in as many afternoons, they seem almost domesticated — an aunt or uncle stopping in for a surly tea but leaving the air surprisingly refreshed in the aftermath. While the storm was building one day, I found myself thinking of new words, a new lexicon, to imagine the march of those storms. As the skies darkened around teatime once again, I could have sworn I heard crumpeting in the distance.

It is late afternoon as I write. There is blundering beyond the tree line. Soon the tuberous blunderheads trundle over the horizon; they begin to “wampum, wampum, wampum” until at. last they’re vrooming nearby, just down the valley. Or perhaps they’re harrumphing and oomphing, from the very omphalos of the storm. Onomatopoeia is such a delicate thing.

But as the clouds tumble into position directly overhead, the sound changes, as does the color of the day. Suddenly the air is grackling, dark and furious in its plumage. The lightning and thunder begin to come as one — ZEBU! ZEBU! — drowning out the wishing of the rain and the concurring of the wind, which turns the maple leaves white-side up. Hail begins to adder on the skylights, and soon the only light left in the world is the sickly green of the storm’s hunkering belly. The roar in my ear is the sound of the gravel road toshing away, worsing downhill and forming a lake on the highway. Water runs in revels and midriffs through the pasture, where the horses stand indifferent to the caucus around them.

And then, just like that it’s over, only a bumbling far to the east, a last snicker of lightning. The sun gloats in the sky, casting a gleam on the pasture where there was so much umbering and ochreing only moments before. The static electricity of the day has been discharged, and with it the linguistic oddness I have been feeling. The storm, I realize, has left me ravenous, hungry as a raven.

[from, the New York Times 7.6.09]

Dark Comes

Verlyn Klinkenborg

I don’t go looking for the places of deep comfort on this farm. They call out to me. Why does the mounded hay in the horses’ run-in shed look so inviting? Why does the chicken house — warm and tight and brightly lit — feel like a place where I could just settle in? I climb the ladder to the hayloft and the barn cat watches me warily from his redoubt in the hay bales. I feel like getting my sleeping bag and joining him.

Night comes, but the fog comes first, dragging the last light with it across the hilltops. The leaves have started to fall — just ones and twos, but already scorched into autumn colors. It is still too warm for the woodstove, the kind of evening that feels like summer in mourning, though without any real sadness. On a night like this, “grieving” sounds like the noise the wind would make if it got into the attic.

Real autumn is a long way off yet, no matter what the pumpkins say. The sight of them at the farm stands seems to jerk me forward, and I am not ready. I want to consume the particulars of the day ahead of me, one by one.

I was away from the farm for two days this week, and it sprang ahead without me. The bees, uproarious around the hive-mouth when I left, are nowhere to be seen in the dusk, though I know they’ll be out again in the morning.

That hive is another place of comfort. I don’t know whether their labor feels like labor or whether necessity is joy to them. I never see the bees coming and going without wondering what so much kinship means. I loved the education Merlin gave the young King Arthur in T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” turning him into creature after creature. I teach myself the same way every day I’m at the farm.

[NYT 9.17,2010]

Hickory Rain

Veryln Klinkenborg

It’s well before light, and I’m listening to the rain, watching every now and then the flicker of headlights coming down the hill. I no longer have custody of Ethel the border terrier, so I’m up early on my own.

She was itemized in a divorce settlement and now lives in Iowa, where I know she’s happy. I hope she misses me, but not nearly as much as I miss her.

Without her, the rhythms of the day ahead are different. Somehow there’s more time for the horses, which is perhaps why Nell the mustang let me catch her when the farrier was here. At first she shied away, to keep up appearances. When the other horses had been trimmed she presented herself to my arms, and it was a much more beautiful day after that.

I have new chickens — layers eight weeks old. When they were living under lights in the mudroom as chicks, I made a practice of picking them up, those that would let me. And now when I enter the poultry yard, I feel like a one-man midway at the chicken fair, birds standing in line waiting to be picked up.

No good can come of lifting chickens. I can almost hear my dad thinking that, though he is gone now, too. And yet the birds churr and cluck, and I leave the yard happy.

The chicken house my dad and I built soon after 9/11 has’ begun to sink on one end, thanks to the woodchucks. That gave me an excuse to buy a bottle jack, which I’ll slip under the sill and, with it, jack the house back to level. The place will feel more trim, and it will keep water from running out of the chicken waterers, which will matter once the freeze begins.

It’s hard to explain where happiness comes from when so much has been lost and misplaced and set aside. But come it does. This is one of those mornings when I think I have a farm just to surround me while I work. The chickens will be darting in and out of the rain, the fall of hickory nuts will continue, and the horses will stand around an upended hay bale in the shed on the hill, looking as though they’ve got a game of three-handed pinochle going.

[NYT 10.19.10]


  1. Sharon Auberle

    These are wonderful! Not that it matters in the least, but is Verlyn Klinkenborg REALLY his name?

  2. David Dix


    Klinkenborg for Senator
    or congress
    or village president


  3. Christo

    I love the picture of the old desk. It reminds me of home. I hope my iTunes gift card I gave you is on that desk somewhere!
    Here’s to a strong recovery…Lv, Christo

  4. Candace Hennekens

    He’s gotten much better as a writer. He irritates me, though! I would like to be him in my skin publishing somewhere important… (Sigh,) probably not going to happen. (Grin) Doesn’t really matter. I live the rural life. Candace

  5. Michael Farmer

    Ah! Nice to see I’m not alone in my “filing” system. I was going to click “Enlarge” but there wasn’t room. Write on! MF

  6. Jackie

    What beautiful writing; every sentence a gem. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Judith Wiker

    Clip, Clip, Clip no more..I personally volunteer to come and scan everything!

  8. Robert M. Zoschke

    I personally volunteer to come prevent Judith from scanning anything.

  9. Warren Nelson

    Never trust a man or woman with a desk neatly piled with groomed projects…Norb, your Coop is the sign of a wonderfully busy mind. The availability of some scrap of old clipped news on the floor is the library of the floor.
    Looks like my place…no wonder we get along…didn’t get to read the featured writer…I just stared at your piles.. I see you saved yourself a place to sit. Big winds INSIDE a room are a good sign…as for scanning…I’m not liking digital photos very much…never seem to print them…50 years from now at the family reunion someone will hold up a CD and say- look- Grandma’s picture is in there but we have to way to show it…anybody have an old Mac in the attic? Bring on the tornadoes. Nothing I like better than reading something you can spill coffee on. – We all can’t wait to see you…Warren PT Nelson

  10. Alice D'Alessio

    Thanks for reminding me how much I like this writer – got a book of his for Christmas some years ago, and though I don’t read it often, I’m rewarded every time – love the word play! There should be some new words for WIND after these last couple days! Your coop always makes my messy desk look positively tidy.
    Read the pink note and write the novel.

  11. delphine sanks

    I, too, made a copy of “Hickory Rain” when it appeared in the NYTimes, but missed “The Rural Life” and “Dark Comes.” Thanks.

  12. Mary Bosman

    Wonderful! Thank God you’re a clipper!

  13. Barbara Vroman

    Yes, write the novel…but I cannot think of anything better than what youare doing…how you touch hearts, pull us into realms we would never seek on our own, and leave us breathless with just one phrase from the mind of someone we will never meet.
    Every day I am still rolling “I am almost all love now…” in my mind, treasuring it, wishing it to become true for me…
    Dale happened to walk by while I had the picture of your office up and said, “Great guy, makes me feel better about MY office.” But ulnlike the rest of us clutterers your clutter is so strangely beautiful. The COLORS.. I LOVE the colors. They are like one of your paintings. As for featured artist one of the lines and there are too many to comment on, that stilled my heart was “no one knows where happiness comes from..” We don’t. It is often such an unexpected gift, and he has found the
    way of opening windows to it, by what all the mystics tell us,
    by being aware, by noticing all the thousands of exquisite things that surround us everyday, mostly unoticed.That’s what poetry is about, isn’t it.
    Live long, take your vitamins, I want to see you again someday!.

  14. stef

    thanks for sharing…the writer you spoke about brought back many memories of growing up on our farm…i even think there may be a hint of manure near me right at this very moment..and visions of playing “village” in the hay mow…oh thanks for the inspiration..miss you and your wonderful sidekick-may you both be happy!!

  15. Ross Lewallen

    Thank you for sharing from your heart and soul. Soon it will be time to take you off the altar of the healer shaman here in New Mexico over looking the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Maybe time for a return to this place you love where the men of the kivas are still praying for you,I and the planet. Where the red and green chili rule. Where the adobe dwellings are warm, soft and flowing to the eye…..
    Your photo of the coop looks real good with the phone books on the floor ….. Clipping – For years my mother followed your writing and clipped every thing under the sun you wrote while in Chicago – I have a huge box to tons of words we shared. I think it might belong in the shed annex or sheds shed.
    I got some silver to make something for you and a darn coyote grabbed it and ran with it. I just found it the other day where the trickster have stuck it. I’ll get it to the studio and see what it wants to become.. blessings rl

  16. Sandra McPherson

    The photograph makes me feel an abundance of cheer. In quilt scholarship, there’s a name for a special kind of quilt that’s not completely nuts: a “contained crazy.” There are patterns there in your room, and lots of care.

  17. Phil Hansotia

    Verlyn’s prose flows as easily as fresh-brewed coffee from a pot. He brings you to his barn with that same easy whimsy from a frosty son of the soil. He invites himself to the barn and chicken coop with the ease of a neighboring farmer dropping in for breakfast after milking. And, after wiping the bacon-greese from his mouth with the back of his hand, he could tell you that his eggs were overcooked! I’m not sure why, but there’s something wholesome in these critters like crusty bread made by dirty hands and I enjoy it. Phil Hansotia.

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