Perspective: A Review of Decennia by Jan Chronister

Reviewed By Eric Chandler

Unforgettable things happen to us. Those pivotal events take on new meaning with the passage of time. Jan Chronister looks closely at those events in her past in her latest collection, Decennia (Truth Serum Press, 2020). The title means “decades.” Chronister splits her life into five of them and examines each in detail. 

Chronister balances brutality with humor, much like life. She doesn’t look away. She describes the childhood impression of her grandfather slaughtering hogs in “I Never Eat Strawberry Sundaes.” In, “Fishing,” she proudly displays a stringer of fish she caught, but

My dad executes the fish

with a quick whack

She reports this when her fish is served to her to eat:

That’s when it stopped being fun.

But, you’ll have fun as Chronister makes you laugh with poems like “Self-portrait as a Tea Kettle” and “Encyclopedia.” Time moves on. Major events in each decade land hard, like when she witnesses segregation in the South. You’ll be willing to bear witness to difficult things because Chronister coaxes you along with a chuckle a few minutes later. Like when she describes inattentive young people in church in “Object Lesson.” Then you alternate to challenges again: Church steeples puncture the membrane / of the stretched out winter sky in “Milwaukee Bus Ride.” 

She “finds a husband in Florida” and moves back to Wisconsin to run a small farm in the 1970’s. Even the title describing this change points to new perspectives that come with age: “Another of my Nine Lives.”

I’d rather plant seeds,

watch them grow in the sun,

see how far

we can make things run. 

Later in “Newcomers,” she describes her family as living off the land, / harmless as trout. After children arrive, in “Is This a Mid-life Crisis?” she asks, Can we still wonder / or are we supposed to KNOW? These perspectives don’t come while you’re in the middle of hard work with the land and kids. You can’t pause and think until later. This poetry is impossible without accumulated time. 

There’s a car crash and loss. The poetry of her life is clear-eyed and unafraid. Yet, somehow, this examination of the decades leaves you stunned and happy at her (and our own) resilience. Throughout, there is the sense of the natural world giving Chronister strength. Her humor joins her unflinching observation to power Decennia. In “Muse,” the second half of her double etheree lands like the book’s benediction:

…She flies back through alphabet

downpours, letters clinging to her wings,

visits lilacs, irises and

echinacea. She finds me

in the garden, breathes words 

in my ear. The sun

that fed her in 

Mexico

now feeds 

me. 

Eric Chandler is the author of Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War (Middle West Press, 2017). His work has appeared in Northern Wilds, Grey Sparrow Journal, The Talking Stick, Sleet Magazine, O-Dark-Thirty, Line of Advance, Collateral, The Deadly Writers Patrol, The Wrath-Bearing Tree, PANK, and Columbia Journal. He’s a three-time winner of the Col. Darron L. Wright Award for poetry. Chandler is a member of Lake Superior Writers and the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Eric is a husband, father, and pilot who cross-country skis as fast as he can in Duluth, Minnesota. 

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A Brief Remembrance of George Hovland

George pointed out my daughter playing in a snow pile at KidSki in January 2010.

I’ve only been here in town for 20 years, so in relation to George Hovland’s life, I’m just a newcomer. Even so, as a cross-country skier, my tracks crossed his over and over.

George always ran Snowflake like a charity. The cashbox on the counter just sat there on the honor system. Each year, I signed up my kids for the KidSki program. This was during the window of time each fall where he gave a discount for signing up early. I paid full price because I could afford it. I also did it because, unlike a lot of things, I knew exactly where my money was going. I mean, outside of my family, cross-country skiing is my favorite thing. And each year when he got my check, George called me on the phone and said, “You shouldn’t pay full price. You can pay the discounted price.” And I said, “I know George. It’s me, Eric Chandler. I told you the exact same thing last year.”

One time, I was skiing classic style in the snow-blessed microclimate at Snowflake and George came up on me the opposite direction and said, “Great technique!” I was a little too pleased, but a comment like that from George, a 1952 Olympian, was like a benediction.

Another time, my wife Shelley told me that George saw Grace skiing and said, “Exquisite technique.” Exquisite. I guess my daughter outdid me, as I should hope she would. That’s the point isn’t it?

In this past weird pandemic winter, my first time on skis was November 16, 2020 at Snowflake. I pulled into the parking lot and climbed out of my car at the exact same time as George. We both commented that it was so great to be skiing. What a nice day, we said. After two decades, I’ve met George on the trail dozens of times. I know he didn’t know my name. After a while, I realized, it just doesn’t matter. We’re two people out skiing. It’s perfect. Names don’t matter. It’s almost Zen-like in the way that we’re completely absorbed in the present in the outdoors. My ski season started this year at the same exact moment as George entered the trailhead during his last winter. I feel blessed and lucky to have shared the trail—the trail he built—that day. And all the days before. And all the days to come. Because of the fact he built a ski trail back in the 1990’s.

One time, in 2010, I was lounging around at the counter inside the Chalet at Snowflake during KidSki, waiting for my kids to finish up. I was coaching KidSki at the time, but after the masses left, my children still wanted to play around on the sledding hill behind the Chalet.

George saw me standing there and said, “Hey! Come here and look at this.” He didn’t know me from Adam, I was just some guy who was standing there.

I walked behind the counter and through the racks of rental skis and he pointed out the window and said, “Look at that kid playing in the snow.” He had a big smile on his face when he said, “Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah! That’s awesome,” I said. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know that kid playing in the snow. But George accidentally brought me to the window to see my own daughter playing in the snow. He showed me my own daughter, just because he could sense happiness in the snow. He was like a joy detector. It was like a damn miracle.

George was like a damn miracle.

Even I could recognize the purity of that moment in real time, and I took a picture of Grace in the snow through the window by all those piles of ski boots and rental skis.

Just yesterday, I took another picture at Snowflake. Bonnie and Dave and Patti and Mark and Nona all recognized the East ski teams for their efforts last winter. All of us parents, sprawled out on the sledding hill by the Snowflake Chalet, finally able to watch our kids get some closure for this past winter. The torch of skiing, passed on from generation to generation. I squinted into the setting sun, just over the roof of the chalet as we clapped for our kids. My daughter stood just feet from where George saw her years ago. We all said it was weird to be there without snow. The spring sun was warm and it felt like George was smiling down on all of us. To me, anyway.

Bonnie and the team at Snowflake, May 12, 2021. The sun beaming over the Chalet.
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Hypocrisy is a Flex

I can’t stop thinking about something I read in August. An author named Peter W. Singer wrote, “Hypocrisy is the point. To show your power.” It shook me. My dad taught me I should break my own neck to keep my word. This was the opposite. 

Think about it, though. Suckers stand in line outside the night club. Powerful people walk right up to the bouncer and he lets them in. Losers make reservations for the restaurant. Powerful people walk right up to the maître d’ and get a table. Late in life, I’ve finally learned that some people see hypocrisy as a goal, not a flaw. If you’re powerful, you’re not bound by norms, standards, and practices. Rules are not for you. You’re not even bound to your word. You’re completely free. Laws are for the little people.

I actually read the Mueller Report. Volume One describes Russian interference in the 2016 election, which continues in the 2020 election according to our intelligence community. It’s not shocking that a hostile foreign adversary is screwing with us. Volume Two surprised me, though. It lists ten possible cases of obstruction of justice by the President. If I did just one on the list, I’d probably be in prison. But our Constitution provides only one path to deal with Presidential crimes: impeachment.

I wrote Congressman Pete Stauber (R-MN) and told him I thought the President should be impeached for the incidents in Volume Two of the Mueller Report. On May 15, 2019, he wrote to me, “There is no evidence that President Trump has committed any crime while in office and we cannot impeach someone solely based on a difference of opinion.” My opinion is that Special Counsel Mueller gathered clear evidence that these ten cases were a matter of law. Anybody other than the President would’ve landed in court.

Later, the President asked Ukraine for a favor. Solicitation of a bribe is explicitly named as an impeachable offense in the Constitution. Seeking help from a foreign nation is also a violation of federal election law. I wrote my congressman again. I asked him what he was going to do about it. On October 18, 2019, he wrote me, “I am not serving in Congress to engage in political games.” I think violating the Constitution is much more than a game. The President violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause every single day because he hasn’t divested himself from his businesses. I don’t think that’s a game. When the President held back the money that Congress allocated for Ukraine, he violated the Impoundment Control Act. The President broke the law and usurped the Constitutional powers of the legislative branch. You’d think that would piss off my representative in that branch. 

The Ukraine issue turned into a House vote on impeachment. I called my congressman’s office and said I was a constituent who thought the President should be impeached. Congressman Stauber voted no on both articles: Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. I’ve written to my congressman several times, mostly about veterans issues and federal public land policy. But contacting my congressman was useless when it came to holding the executive branch accountable. 

My congressman repeatedly says that the country has a lot of other pressing issues. I agree. I would prefer to talk about any of them, especially the virus. But, in my opinion, when our form of government is repeatedly attacked from within, that should be the top priority for him as my representative. For all of us. Individual policies pale in comparison. 

The word “hypocrisy” comes from the Greek word for “acting a theatrical part.” My congressman talks a lot about law and order. His slogan in this race is: Fighting for Our Way of Life. I took the same oath that he and the President took. But when my congressman had the opportunity to actually fight for our way of life, he voted no. His inaction placed the current occupant of the White House above the law. When it comes to holding the President accountable for violating the Constitution, my congressman is acting. He’s playing a theatrical part where he seems concerned about law and order.

After Congressman Stauber voted against impeachment, he released a statement, “We have a Presidential election next year and the American people deserve to decide the outcome.” For the first time in American history, an impeached President is running in a general election. My letters didn’t work. So, I held my congressman and my President accountable the only way I know how: I’ve already voted. I’m one of the losers and suckers that still believes the rule of law applies to everybody.

I agree with my congressman: We deserve to decide the outcome. 

Vote.

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