Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

The Poplar Tree


It’s a windy day, blue and sunny.


I have a head cold and sit in the sun


hoping to bake it out of my skull.  


The sun tries its best with warming rays.


But the wind intervenes. It’s October.


The warm days of summer are behind me


and I pull on a sweater.




I can still feel the heat of the sun even


with the autumn wind.


Almost dozing, I surrender to the present...


the sun, the wind, the sounds, and the smells...


I have a chicken boiling in the pot. Soup is in my future.


I see the treetops swaying in the wind.


That takes me back to other windy days.




Years, a lifetime,  ago there was a singular


Poplar tree on the edge of a forgotten cornfield;


abandoned with old stubble and rabbit tracks,


and sometimes snakes when the weather was right.


That tree – not an old rigid tree – was


almost thirty feet tall and straight and strong


but still flexed nimbly in the wind.




The Poplar came equipped with low branches


perfect for an eight-year-old to climb.


An Adventurer, a Sailor, a Flying Wallenda!


It could be anything but on windy days


it was a Pirate ship and I was up in the rigging


swaying back and forth as the ship bounded


through the waves. 




Squinting toward the horizon,


I search for unsuspecting Galleons full of treasure;


full of spices, gold, jewels and who knows what else.


Maybe even a damsel or two?


Yo-Ho and Ahoy!!  Avast me hearties!!


Hold fast and turn her about! What do I spy?


It’s my mother – the chicken soup is ready.







Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
It was so easy to dream at that age. For me I think it was space, and dinosaurs.
Saturday, 08 October 2016 21:21
Ken Hartke
I think I saw a pirate movie about that time...late 1950s.
Monday, 10 October 2016 23:20
1244 Hits

A Chance Meeting on a Train


The chance meetings or random coincidences always intrigue me. I’m travelling cross country by train and I‘ve met two writers already just as table-mates in the dining car. One, age nineteen, has two published books (what was I doing with my time at nineteen?). The other is a ghost writer and mostly now does short stories. The nineteen-year-old just started a university writing program so, who knows, she may never write again – or maybe be a great success.  I knew her when…


I had lunch in the dining car yesterday with a lady from the island of Hawaii travelling to St. Louis, which happens to be my destination. As we talked, she shared some of her experiences of moving to Hawaii and what her immediate surroundings were like…plants and animals. There was also another lady sitting at a table across the aisle who was glancing over from time to time. It turned out that she also was also from the “Big Island” and they were, in fact, near neighbors. They lived in adjoining communities. So what are the odds of two people starting off on separate journeys from the same general place at different times and meeting in a dining car in New Mexico on an east-bound train? How many different things had to fall into place for that to happen?   I suppose someone could figure out the odds with enough information but I’ve learned just to accept it.


My life is full of similar random coincidences that defy explanation. My late wife’s birthdate matches exactly with my brother’s wife’s birthdate…same day and year. They were born in the same state but not the same city.  Also, totally unknown until later, my wife once worked for my sister-in-law’s mother when she was starting her career before I met her.


About a twenty years into my work life I was living in a small town and employed in government as a program manager. I had to hire a new secretary so I interviewed maybe a half dozen candidates. I hired a local woman from the small town and never really thought much about her background or family. In small towns one doesn’t pry into family connections unless the topic is initiated by the other person. My experience was that many people were related to each other either directly or by marriage and it was best not to express opinions or comments about someone. Now, realize that I was born and raised 150 miles away and had no connection to this town. That is what I thought until a chance conversation with my secretary revealed that we were both cousins to the same person. Somehow one of my cousins married her cousin and we were commonly related to their children.  It was a second marriage for both of these cousins; both being divorced in different localities.     


I also have two insurance agents, both living in that same small town that I moved to at age 27, and both of these agents share my birthday. One is exactly the same — day and year – and the other a few years later.  They don’t know each other and work for different companies. There are other date-related coincidences:  my dad died ten years, to the hour, before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.  I could list almost a dozen other odd, seemingly random occurrences but you get the idea. 


I was recently reading a short passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which he questions how things happen. Often we see things as planned and managed by a talented leader (in this case, Napoleon) but maybe that is an illusion. Maybe things are set in motion in another way. Maybe a peculiar string of random events led Napoleon to Moscow with a huge army.  Maybe he was just along for the ride. We plan things and sometimes the plans work out and sometimes they don’t.  “Serendipity” is one English language concept – to find something good by accident without seeking it.  In history, one person’s serendipity is sometimes another person’s catastrophe. I suspect that concept is not unique to English speakers.


At any rate, things have an odd tendency to fall into place in ways that, while seemingly random, also give a hint that something else is in control. My daughter says that it is the angels at work. She got that idea from my wife who attributed certain happenings to an un-seen hand…”Let it be – marvel but don’t question” was her philosophy. Maybe so.  Maybe the angels are bored and play these games to keep busy.








Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Aah... Synchronicity :–)
Friday, 02 September 2016 21:11
Ken Hartke
Monday, 05 September 2016 01:20
Rosy Cole
Like your wife and daughter, I've come to the conclusion that the angels are best left to do their thing, so prevalent is this syn... Read More
Wednesday, 07 September 2016 15:57
1352 Hits



It’s not easy being a parent. My house is on a large piece of land, over an acre, and I generally let it grow up with native plants that are suited to the desert climate. This year I have four, maybe five, covies of Gambel’s quail patrolling the yard. It has been a successful year and each set of parents have twelve or fifteen (or more) chicks so I have somewhere around sixty baby quail in the yard. This is in addition to the dozen or more desert cottontail rabbits.


Every day there are little dramas played out in the yard.  I’ve taken to throwing seed out because there are so many chicks. The rabbits, who spend their day lounging in the shade under my pick-up truck, have acquired a taste for the birdseed so the venture out and then there are a few confrontations  with mom and dad quail — all peaceful but this is BIRDseed, after all.




There are so many chicks to keep track of that sometimes the parents lose count. Somebody goes missing and one of the parents, a male in this instance, is tasked with finding the little wanderer. They like to do this from an elevated place…it’s easier to see junior from above. The chicks know to hide in tall grass if they are separated so the parent makes a sound to attract the chick’s attention.  They do this same low-key chatter when they lead the covey out to feed so it is a common and understood sound for the chick. It might take a few minutes but eventually the errant son or daughter is brought home.




I have a walled courtyard in the front of my house with a large goldfish pond that serves as the local watering hole for my local wildlife.  The quail families will parade in through the gate and spread out to forage. A couple days ago one chick was missed in the headcount as they were going back out the gate. Two chicks ran out together and mom miscounted. She was sure there was one missing. She stayed and searched for several minutes until she was satisfied, or maybe dad called to her, and then ran to catch up.  Parenthood is hard enough with one or two but with twelve or fifteen all the same age it must be exhausting.


Recent Comments
Orna Raz
This is lovely dear Ken: to observe like you do, to record wth such great photos and to write so well about nature.
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 21:18
Katherine Gregor
Short and sweet... and speaks volumes. I love it. How fortunate you are to have wildlife in your garden, Ken.
Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:50
Rosy Cole
Utterly delightful, Ken :-). A breath of fresh air. New Mexico continues to enthrall. But I hope, if you have any restaurateur fri... Read More
Thursday, 28 July 2016 14:02
1156 Hits

A Monster of a Man

One of the things I like most about travelling on Amtrak is the dining car seating arrangement. They have an open seating policy. You make your way through the train to the dining car, present yourself and wait to be seated. The attendant will seat you at an open place at a table that is often occupied by strangers who may or may not be familiar with each other. There are usually immediate introductions followed by an hour of conversation as the food is ordered, prepared and served. Food on the train is one-hundred times better than on a plane and much more memorable. I still remember a few of my dining car meals.

I've met some very interesting people in this fashion. One was a National Park guide who was stationed ar Hyde Park, Franklin D. Roosevelt's home and at Val-Kill, Eleanor Rossevelt's cottage retreat. She entertained us with stories about FDR and some of the visitors to the house. Having been there I could easily appreciate what she had to say. Another time there was an endearing elderly couple travelling from Los Angeles to New York for a wedding. Another couple talked about their pioneering families who came north out of New Spain in the 1600s to settle in New Mexico. They were on their way to Austria (by train?) to visit some long lost relatives. It is all very interesting and at least you will all have the travel experience in common.

I most often travel alone and always get a private Roomette so I can work or read without too much distraction and stretch out to sleep. Normally a Roomette will accomodate two people...albeit quite snuggly. Your meals are included in the price of the Roomette and if travelling alone you should eat as much as you can because you are buying meals for two people.

On one such trip, going from Albuquerque to Kansas City, I went to the dining car and was seated at an empty table. Most of the other tables were fully occupied but there were a number of vacant spots. I was a little disappointed as I sat there by myself. Then a person appeared in the doorway at the far end of the dining car. A huge black man -- both tall and wide -- who was probably somewhat over three-hundred pounds in weight. He was more casually dressed than most of the travellers in the dining car and his appearrance demanded attention. Heads turned as people eyed the newcomer. There was a noticable change in the conversational noise.  Body language seemed to shout "Not here!!".

The attendant greeted him and turned to assess the seating options. Everyone looked away but it seemed as though they expanded their personal space in a subtle way. The attendant led him down the long aisle to my table. "This was going to be interesting", I thought. We had to reposition the table so he could sit down and he was still wedged in and looked a little uncomfortable.

We introduced ourselves and talked a little while looking over the menu. He was on his way back to his home in Fort Worth, Texas, after helping a friend move from Texas to a teaching position at the University in Albuquerque. They had a one-way truck rental and he had to find own his way back home. The train route between those two places is long and arduous -- the first leg was an overnight trip to Kansas City followed by a second shorter leg to St. Louis. Then there was another long overnight trip from St. Louis to Fort Worth. Such is the state of rail travel in the United States. If I wanted to take the train from Albuquerque to Denver I would have to go through Chicago....but I digress.

My fellow passenger was carrying a substantial laptop computer...larger and a little thicker than mine or most others that I've seen. As we talked he explained that he was an independant film producer and was taking advantage of the train trip to interview his fellow passengers on video as part of a future project. He was traveling in coach and had a lot of people to choose from. Our food arrived and we ate while continuing our conversation. He was also a theater director in Fort Worth and produced and directed live theater productions several times a year. When he returned to Fort Worth he would be starting on a new production. We had a most enjoyable visit. Later in the trip, on the second day,  he interviewed me for his film project. I'm afraid I wasn't very witty or informative. He would ask questions but my answers were dull and not very animated. I'm probably not independant film material. 

We made it to Kansas City on time and there was a short layover before I could catch my next train going to my final stop in Jefferson City. This was also the train to St. Louis so my new acquaintance also had to board that second train.  We were sent to different cars based on our final destination so I didn't see him again. This train often carries newly released inmates from the state penitentiary and I suspect there might have been a few interesting interviews. If I ever spend time in Fort Worth I'll try to look him up.

     *     *     *    


Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Thanks Ken - I really enjoyed this. I have great (if vague) memories of traveling across country by train. I think I was around 5 ... Read More
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 01:20
Ken Hartke
Stephen -- Thanks for stopping by. My dad worked for the old Wabash Railroad...of Cannonball I've always had an attachme... Read More
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 03:04
Rosy Cole
Yes, I much enjoyed it too, thank you. And sorry you didn't get a film contract! I used to love the old-style train travel here... Read More
Saturday, 02 July 2016 22:55
1123 Hits

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