First Entry

Barb told me to write – it was really cold that night, but that’s nothing new for northern Minnesota in mid-November. We stood outside in the dark while Dad and Nick watched football in the cozy den just beyond the insulated window facing our porch. They couldn’t hear what we were talking about and I was glad – really glad. Something so personal as being told what to do by your Mom shouldn’t be shared or revealed to prying ears – especially from a younger brother who regales in the small joy of discovering fodder for the eternal pyre cast beneath his older brother. Nope, this was a clear directive handed down from above like Moses to Noah – “get that damned boat ready before it’s too late!”

I spent that week contemplating all the stories I had to tell – it was what I thought sobriety or AA must be like – having to conjure up the good and the bad but more importantly to get them documented. I always knew I was given a unique and extremely privileged life from my Father. He was (and still is) of the generation that wildly outpaced their parents with accomplishments that most people of my generation still marvel at. He was raised in rural, southeastern Minnesota during the late WWII era, when tough times were just the norm. He never groveled about how rough they had it, in fact quite the opposite – he recalls what sounds like a Garden of Eden, resplendent with clear streams, fields with pheasants and a railroad that provided a life for their family. This idyllic Mayberry of the North was either interrupted or perhaps blessed by the arrival of my Father’s first son, Kent Jeffrey Morrill – which must have fueled an insatiable pursuit for this very young man to care for others.

Nick and I were the last two Morrill kids born into the brood. We met our brother Jon when we were still in high school, which brought the sibling clan to six: Kent; Katie; Kirk; Jon; Matt; Nick. Most of us had grown up in Missouri but during different eras – Nick and I were high schoolers in the mid-90’s so that should set the age range for anyone trying to do the math.

We grew up in a small, predominately agrarian community about 30 minutes outside Kansas City. We were both born in KC, MO but after 2nd grade Dad hauled us out of that crazy city and onto ‘the Farm.’ I entered the Platte County school system at age 8, grade 3 – but was never a true ‘local’ – this was a town full of kids whose parents and grandparents went to school (or didn’t) here and never left – the fact that we didn’t have other family in the area was an obvious sign that we were interlopers in a landscape that was destined to be overrun by suburban expansion far beyond the years of our landing there. Dad had the property for several years before we actually moved out there but no house or lake or prairies or serpentine pathways existed through the forests. In fact, the signature and quite literally crowning feature of the property was a grass airstrip, which he shared with the adjoining property owner. The property line was divided right down the center of that 2,250′ strip, we owned the eastern half. It started as about 40 acres – named EarAcres by my Father early on, probably way before we ever took up residence there. The driveway was 7/10 of a mile long and ascended a plateau of ancient limestone and oaks to crest just below the airstrip and continued to parallel until finally departing runway left, descending again through prime Missouri deciduous forest until EarAcres was truly revealed. There stood quite possibly the finest log home ever constructed in Platte County, out of 12″ spruce logs that were logged and milled in Montana. I’ll never forget Robby Baber’s crew of carpenters who built that house – they’d never seen anything like it prior or since but they did a hell of a job.

Dad had an awesome John Deere 4020, probably 1963 vintage. It was a monster of a tractor to us kids – somehow always present during those early days and years of sculpting the property and pushing beyond the original boundaries of EarAcres. Dad did everything around that farm – I mean he literally built everything except the house. It was our home, we were never going back to the city and it was time to build our future. Forts were quickly erected with palisades and fire pits and dual stories. Aerial creek crossings were accomplished by trusting the vines that descended from overhead canopy, occasionally releasing their sinuous grip and sending the passenger to their ultimate heap in the congested forest floor. Epic games of cowboys and Indians were played out after we’d met enough kids to start our own circle of friends. We were always building, always improving – the fun was part of a cycle of work and play, an early exposure to what life should be all about – work hard, play hard. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

We took flight regularly. In fact most of my early childhood memories revolve around flying or destinations we flew ourselves to. Oddly enough most of the early flying I can remember didn’t actually originate on our home-base grass strip. Dad kept a majestic Cessna 414C at Kansas City Municipal, just north of downtown in a southern oxbow of the Missouri River. 4694N was sleek, fast and everything I knew about my Dad. He’d grab us from school on some random day and we’d be off to Pinedale, Wyoming or Taos, New Mexico or Portland, Oregon – Nick, Dad, Griff and I. Griff was our dog, he was built like the log home we lived in and had a magnificent set of balls that I guess Dad just couldn’t bring himself to have removed. Fly fishing, skiing, and of course work. Dad’s job required him to be everywhere and he took us along. I remember so many nights falling asleep under restaurant tables with Nick while Dad and his business associates talked away. Work was always there, but we didn’t mind. It was familiar and constant, just like our Dad.

Those airplanes were freedom for my Dad, I realize that now. It’s inconceivable for me to think about owning something like one of his planes, the risk associated with piloting an aircraft with your family on board. The skill and confidence it takes to be a pilot, let alone a great pilot like my Dad. He was fairly young but had a long history as an aviator, instructor and always a student. He flew ‘at altitude,’ meaning he operated a pressurized aircraft with twin engines. This wasn’t casual flying, but serious and technical aviation that requires focus. But it meant we could go virtually anywhere, and boy did we go. I remember Dad in deep concentration in pilot shacks across the great American West, contemplating routes, weather and safety. I remember watching other pilots ‘go for it’ when my Dad called them crazy behind their backs, opting to wait out the weather just one more day, probably allowing for some more time in the streams. We were free and it was the best time of my life.

My adolescence played out like a convoluted series of riffles in a stream. Rapacious flow checked by periodic pooling of time – events that pockmark a timeline of rapid growth and development, ultimately yielding a supreme opportunity for reflection earlier than most would probably succumb to. But that’s how life goes – every terminus at the ocean started as a small rivulet that congealed with multitudes of other rivulets to stave off ephemeral flow. The higher the elevation of the waterway, the younger the flow and inevitably the more turbulent the water. The distinguishing characteristics of any flow starts with the immovable obstacles that force the water to bend and ebb and pause. This momentary disruption also provides a safe haven for insects and fish, a pause in the turbulence to gather strength and fortitude from the next bite of food that is delivered rather than pursued. But down it must fall, toeing the line of gravity because there is no other way – all the way from the highest post-alpine reaches to the fertile valley lands and ultimately reaching the great collecting pool. Moving fast when we’re light and free and slowing as we gather mass and purpose. I’m hoping to capture a few of the stones and boulders and log jams that created the interruption of flow. Enjoy.

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