My First True Love

One day, when my boy was quite little and in Kindergarten, we were down by the road waiting for the school bus to arrive. We had a little raised garden there with strawberries and other plants and my son’s inquisitiveness about nature was quite piqued at that time. I had been teaching him the basics about birds and other animals and plants and he suddenly noticed a little yellowish white butterfly dancing about the broccoli plants. I told him that this butterfly, though beautiful, was not a good insect for us. Then I explained about insects and their stages and told him the larvae of this butterfly eat the broccoli and cabbage leaves and those plants then may die. My son then said astutely, “Daddy, we need something to eat those caterpillars and butterflies so that our plants live and we have food to eat.” At that very moment, a House Wren swooped down with his incessant singing (we had nicknamed him, The Singer) and took the butterfly in his beak and paused for a moment as if to show off for my boy, then flew off to feed his young’uns (or himself). That was a wonderful teaching moment and it so enriched my life to see my son taking all this beauty of nature in, indeed, just as I had done throughout my life.

It was my Father who first instilled in me a love for Nature. Sure we hunted and fished and there are plenty who would object to that, but more than pointing a gun and pulling a trigger, he taught me respect for the animal and for the land and water. We learned everything we could about the life history of the animal down to its droppings. One sunny winter day, a Saturday about 10 below, Dad and I were tracking a fox through the snow across the frozen prairie. As we followed the tracks, another set of tracks appeared alongside those we were following. As we continued, Dad showed me how the tracks would merge close to one another and then back off, though still side by side. He explained that this was a pair of fox, a mom and a dad in love with one another, and the merging tracks were the two nudging each other at the shoulder as they trotted along. We tracked them another five miles or so before turning and heading back to the car and the two fox kept up this “loving” behavior throughout what was apparently their nighttime patrol.

Widgeon wings plaque from Dr. Keith Killingbeck
Widgeon wings from Keith hanging in my studio

As I began my science career in academia, there were two others who became mentors and friends and deeply instilled in me a love and appreciation for Nature on a whole new level. Throughout my time pursuing my Bachelor of Science (Biology) and Masters (Zoology, Botany) degrees, these two, Dr. Keith Killingbeck and Dr. Blanchard Krogstad were the very epitome of educators and during these years I was in heaven as I learned more and more on so many different levels. I was completely sure I was on the right career track, one that would last a lifetime and bring immeasurable joy.

Looking back now, though, is the realization that there came a time in my life, when, despite my lifelong dedication to learning about nature, I truly lost the appreciation and love I once had for her that was instilled in me from Dad, Keith and Blanchard. At this point in my life, the butterflies and birds merely became biology and chemistry and parenchyma, sclerenchyma and collenchyma and I felt as if I didn’t know everything, then I knew nothing and that would be a sign I had become a complete and utter failure as a scientist. So I became a biochem lab rat during my time as a Plant Biochemistry PhD candidate and then to venture outdoors meant only that I might see something I didn’t know or comprehend and this intellectual inability would set me up for anxiety. I developed a nature-phobia.

Long ago and far away
I ran away from You
Thinking I had found a better way
I ran away from You
And my heart emptied out
And my life grew so cold
While the weight of this ol’ world
Tied me down

Once upon a time I had a love so fine
Her sunsets and her mirror lakes
Really pulled me in
But there came a time when I went too far
And I learned too much and I lost the star
It was her crown shining bright
And the sun refused to dance
And the moon held back her face
And that long lost memory
Tied me down

From the song “Tie Me Down” written by Robert B. Kjonaas
All Rights Reserved © 2007

Well some years later, I, now in a new and non-scientific career, along with my wife and our pre-school son had moved to our country home and, indeed, this should have been a paradise for me, except it wasn’t really. Even with a son to teach and expound on the joys of God’s creation, I myself didn’t really feel it like I used to when I was young. I no longer hunted or fished, nor camped or explored or cared a whit about all the attractions of Nature that Wisconsinites bragged about. I’m sure the death of my beloved Brittany Spaniel was tied to all of this, for we had explored and hunted and shared together on a level I didn’t know was even possible, but nonetheless, yes, the “thrill was gone”.

Until many years later on a beautiful spring day, with my son now on his own at the University, I was playing guitar in my room with the window open. Suddenly a House Wren flew up into the sill and perched and sang and sang and sang! After a fashion, he flew off as they are always so busy and I went out to listen some more. As I sat there the sun warmed me and the comfort was something I hadn’t allowed myself to experience in years. In that moment all of the past nine months of tedium and bitter cold, snow and rain and the endless cloudy days that are the hallmark of Madison just melted away.

Later that evening, as I sat down to the guitar again, the song, Tie Me Down, began pouring out:

When the birds return in the spring
My heart is glad
Like a long lost melody returned
My heart is glad
And the warmth of the sun
Ties me down

Suddenly a new yet familiar vista had opened up. The birds and their songs were not an open page on a textbook any longer but a source and well spring of joy. With renewed passion each day, I began whistling along with the birds and listening intently to the frog calls even if I didn’t know a peeper from a tree frog. It made no difference. What mattered was the simple beauty and blessing of hearing them. Now I needed to make my journey back to my first true love complete.

Lord I know yes I believe it’s true
If I get down on my knees
And I pray to You
The sun is going to shine
Until that day my heart will wait
My life on hold yet I anticipate
The sun is going to shine
Yeah the warmth of her rays
And the glow of her eyes
And the Love of her outstretched arms
Will tie me down

So, indeed, I gradually became a Nature boy again, a grown up Christopher Robin. And once again the Lord blessed me with visions and sights that no one else has ever seen and sounds that have yet to be heard and my heart was truly happy again, I’d found my way back home.

Oh I’ve got a lot more baggage and my dwelling abode is a far more cluttered place than in those days of my youth, but it is home. And now there may be text books out at night and mushroom identification guides and Google searches on bird calls but they don’t vex me or beckon me to my former sterile place. Yes there is turmoil, but at the center of my universe is my first, and now I can say, lasting one true love.

Now I’ve gone too far
To ever return
I’m into the Love
And the Fire that burns
Inside my soul
And I will climb up
Every mountain top
Let every field of thorns
And every raging storm reveal
The tempest of my soul

As a final note of interest, we have a local fox which we have only occasionally seen. But in the winter mornings after a snowfall, we see his tracks running up or across my road and around my house. This has gone on for twenty years or more, probably a number of generations. I wonder if he ever tells his little ones about the man in the house and his loved ones…

To listen to an impromptu unplugged version of this song, please visit this link at my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/6dBdMIN6frU

View from Heaven, The Top of the World

Last October through mid-January was a particularly troubled time health wise, and on three occasions during that period, I felt there was a chance I wouldn’t make it through the night.

For some unexplained reason, by mid-January, the pain and much of the discomfort just disappeared.

But such as it was, I was given particular occasions to think about what comes next. Granted, I am not sure there is a caterpillar alive that really knows the winged adventure in store for himself down the road. Still, I suspect we all have a fancy of what we would like to see.

First of all, a reunion with departed family and friends would be in order, followed by a time fishing and swimming in unspoiled habitats, and always accompanied by my beloved and faithful Brittany.

Second, please don’t let it snow everyday as it often does in Wisconsin winters so that there is a never ending chore of snow shoveling 🙂

Now both are probably a quick view of heaven and both would be at odds with scriptural accounts, I suppose, where there are passages describing never ending praise and worship and adoration of the heavenly King.

But whatever, I am OK with the “eyes has not seen” adage and I am sure it’s going to be great.

But then upon deeper reflection, I get hung up on the eternity principle. I like hunting and fishing and bird watching and cooking and playing, recording, mixing and mastering music, but not each one every day. The same thing, whatever that may be, over and over? Forever? No challenges, all is hunky-dory?

Once I reach this point, I know it’s a futile thought game and time to give it up and let pure fantasy take over. Might as well have some fun with it. And that is as far as I really ever get.

But back to last October, a really low point, when I wasn’t even sure if my wife would find me alive when she got home from work. So I began writing this song in earnest, straight from the heart, where the Top of the World is unreachable in this lifetime, but it is where we will start our journey in the next.

Whatever is to come, “Baby I love you so…”

And that’s how this story will end

Honey I’ll wait for you

And we can start again

At the Top of the World

And that’s how a Love never dies

Starts out a Dance

Onto Romance

At the Top of the World

“The Top Of The World” © 2016 Robert Kjonaas All rights reserved

Red Sky Evening

“I’m headin’ out to find my Golden Days

I lost ‘em on the Road

I was turning ‘round to see my better half

The day I came across you”

Red Sky Evening ©2015 Robert B. Kjonaas, All rights Reserved

As I look back over my life, I am attracted to the beauty of days that were well spent. For me as a nature lover, this often was days I spent in the country, either hunting or fishing or camping or hiking or bird watching, etc.

In particular, the days I was hunting the bluffs above the Snake River in Washington with Lady, my Brittany Spaniel, are particularly in my memory. These were glory days for sure as the birds, chukar, quail and pheasant, were plentiful and I was young and strong. We’d go up and down the canyons and often find ourselves many, many miles from my pickup at day’s end. Exhausted, we would head back with the backdrop of a beautiful sunset bursting out on the hillside.

These were my Golden Days. As my youth faded and I travelled away, I lost them.

To be sure, all was not totally well with those days. In my current state of “purification and mystical suffering” as I call these last days I have found myself in, I often see the bad with the good. For I know, I was self centered and motivated primarily by my own desires and comfort in those days. Was I a good friend to my friends and the people I met in those Golden Days? I suspect not so much. And, as such, my better half as in “posterior” was often ashamedly in full view to John Q Public even as well to those I really cared about.

But now as my house is in better order, it would be something to have those Golden Days in view once again. Days which taxed the limits of my physical endurance and were rewarded by the beauty of the Lord’s glorious creation beckoning me on to another new day saying, “you did well this day”.

It’s as if I could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to that wonderful memory in my mind and it would be real again. Me and Lady (my Brittany Spaniel) and my best friends heading back to my ’77 Ford pickup, Choco. Maybe it will be so once again, in heaven, and I pray often that’s really what I’m headin’ out to find.

“It was there one mornin’ in the Sweet Sunshine

I never felt more Alive

But in the Red Sky Evening

And a cool wind callin’

I had to leave ‘em behind

My whole world left behind”

Red Sky Evening (C)2015 Robert B. Kjonaas, All rights Reserved

You can purchase Red Sky Evening (a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more) or listen at https://robbykband.bandcamp.com/track/red-sky-evening

Sail Away (with Jesus)

I was married in 1984 and in 1985 my son was born. Two years later, in the summer, my wife and son went to visit her family in Norway while I took care of some business here at home.

Once alone, one of the first things I did was kneel down and pray, “Lord I am done with this music…” as it had become a distraction away from my family and my career and served no apparent worthy purpose. I added the caveat, “…but if you have some purpose for this music, it is yours.” I put my guitar in its case and closed the door on my music room.

The truth is I always loved music and once I began playing guitar in high school, I was sold. By the time I was married, I was playing up to 6 hours a day (cover songs from the Eagles, Jerry Jeff, Neil Young, etc.) as a stress relief from my day job as a scientist at the Institute of Biological Chemistry at WSU. In those days, I would come home, walk and feed my beloved puppy, Lady, eat some noodles and play away. That was a hard habit to break. But suddenly, being married with a son often meant no days with music. So I decided, why fight it?

Well, two weeks later when my wife and son came home, the first thing she said was, “Something has changed here.” Indeed it had!

Evidently the Lord had some use for the music now that I was done with “my thing”. As it turned out during those two weeks, I ended up playing guitar all night with very little sleep. I had a lot to do. The first big change in my music was the style of playing. I gave up using a pick and developed a finger picking style. The second change was I began writing Christian material.

“Whenever Jesus says

Sail away

Sail on to another shore

The other side of your life!”

-Sail Away (with Jesus), written by Robert Kjonaas

When I was first married, I was taken by my wife’s daily devotion to scripture so I also began reading the Bible each night and quickly became hooked. I especially began to study history, the Babylonians and the Assyrians in particular. That was a subject I hated in high school and now couldn’t get enough of. Anyhow, I read through the Bible two times cover to cover and then got a study Bible plus a Jewish study Bible and other books e.g. the Atlas of Christian History. I particularly developed a fondness for Alfred Edersheim, Gill and others who presented the scriptures in a Jewish context particular to those times.

So I had become well versed in scripture and I believe that is one of the reasons why the Lord felt He could use me.

During those two weeks, He gave me three songs all “raveled” together in my mind. It became a mathematical puzzle of sorts to unravel them as they had different tempos, chords, etc. I had just finished reconstructing the third song when my wife and son came home. Yes something had changed!

Sail Away, based on the gospel accounts of the “calming of the storm at sea” was one of those first three songs.

During my recent health hiatus from music – about four years off while I dealt with the cancer, radiation treatment, and trying to survive it all – I lost a lot. My memory was in shambles for some reason, and I literally forgot every song I had ever written. It is only as of late I’ll hear the songs in my head at night and then try to reconnect with them in the morning. I have now remembered four of the nearly one hundred songs I had written.

It is, for me, so wonderful to return to these long lost melodies. It is hard for me to sing well now, but you can see me play it at the YouTube link below as well as listen to an earlier, pre-cancer version.

YouTube (Easter, 2017): https://youtu.be/XNgp8nj3cOw

2001 full band version: https://robbykband.bandcamp.com/track/sail-away

Have a blessed Easter experience!

With His Stripes, We Are Healed

The radiation treatment (four years ago now) was brutal, I lost 70 pounds, my hair, my eyelashes, my beard, all fell out and my facial skin began flaking. Within a year, I began losing my sight due to cataracts. I lost the ability to breathe through my nose and I had no salivary glands so eating was a challenge and I had to drink water frequently, generally getting up every 2 hours at night. I could no longer taste anything or smell.

But in this new battle of my war against the cancer, there were victories! After a few months once the radiation was discontinued, I found I could eat spinach and mushrooms. That was such a blessing! And shortly thereafter, I was able to eat Campbell’s bean soup. All other foods were too dry, or made me nauseous. I survived on the soup and green tea for the first half year and then slowly, new foods were added to my “ability to eat” list.

Morning breakfast cereal of steel cut organic oats with fried apples, dried cranberries, raisans, organic apple juice and french vanilla yogurt
Oatmeal with fruit, yogurt and a morning prayer

One of the first such foods was an old breakfast favorite: fried diced apple and cinnamon, with dried cranberries and raisins stewed in apple juice and combined with cooked organic steel cut oats and French vanilla yogurt.

Now with breakfast added to my dietary regime, I was soon able to begin fighting (more like clawing) back to health in earnest, but not only because of the health benefits of good food, but for a deeper reason: It was many years earlier, that I had learned to appreciate the value of prayer during my breakfast preparation.

I feel strongly that prayer is the first place to start for a healing, which then becomes a foundation followed by other factors such as, for me anyhow, nutrition, exercise (living on a wooded lot provides an ample daily “thing to do list” even if it is just picking up sticks), emotional maturity e.g. stress and anger management, sleep, friends, family, writing and playing music and church.

Here is my morning “breakfast” prayer, in part. During this prayer I visualize the Lord coming against the cancer and then I’m watching as it shrivels up and dies so I can boast and pronounce, “Praise be to God, for I am healed!!!”

Thank you Father for Your many blessings, so rich and abundant, throughout every phase of my life, for which I am resoundingly undeserving, for I am a sinner. Yet even as I stood at death’s door, and beyond, You brought me back to my home, my family, my music and my church; to this time of purification and healing and suffering to be shared with You. And you restored all good things unto me: my hair, my skin, my eyes, my vision, my nose, my sense of smell and even my breathing. You restored my saliva and my sense of taste, all things even down to the hairs upon my chin. And as You have shrunk the cancer, I pray it now will dry up, wither and wilt and die on the vine, so that my healing in You may be complete. And Father, help me to come to You as a child, with awe and innocence and purity and full of faith. And “those with ears will hear and those with eyes will see” this wondrous work You have accomplished in me – this miracle – by Your goodness, Your grace and Your mercy and Your great love for us all, for by Your stripes, we are healed (see Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24). Amen!

These days, I am writing additional prayers for the worst may be yet to come. My ENT tells me the cellular deterioration brought on by the radiation may continue to the point that my palate is in danger of collapsing and, indeed, it is already producing fissures, little tears or holes connecting my oral and nasal cavities so that gargling and drinking fluids goes straight into the nose which is very unpleasant. He advised me to reconsider surgery (which would include removing the palate, teeth, one eye, etc.) as a solution.

So my war has a new, additional front…a new fight and thus new prayers to lay a foundation of healing upon.

In My Time of Dyin’

Living in a woodlot has a lot of advantages like privacy, the birds, maple syrup, mulberries, black walnuts, shade from the never ending heat that a one and one-half month long summer brings in Madison, WI (just kidding), and the dead leaves so necessary for good garden compost…

Wait a minute, did I say leaves?

I think on my dying day, I might say, thank you Jesus, I’ll never have to rake leaves again. Except that won’t actually happen. Having crossed over the threshold a time or two, I can testify, that does not really come across one’s mind.

In fact nothing really does. When the blood pressure goes plummeting downhill, there is no time to think about anything. So now I have prepared my dying bed ahead of time. I have two spots picked out. One in the house and one outside.

The one in the house is by the TV with a DVD-R loaded up with classical music from EWTN’s In Concert series. Beautiful music! Hospice showed us another little trick is to have an old rug over the nice room carpet because, with me, as in the past, it is likely to be very bloody.

So here I can sit and listen to the beautiful music, my wife can read Psalms aloud and there will be nothing for me to think about.

My chosen place to die under my little spruce forest
My dyin’ tree, a place to look up “under the pines”

Outside, I have picked out a dying tree and made a little spot so if I am able, this is my preference, to sit under one of my hundred year old spruce trees and listen as the wind whispers in the treetops.

But here’s what I am really saying. I have the luxury of thinking and planning out a dying scenario because I know it’s coming. I’m sure most people don’t think about dying and planning, but, nevertheless, it still could be tomorrow or a year or more from now…

That is what I learned the first time I bled out. There was no time to ask for forgiveness from the Lord, or to tell my family how much I love them, or to call up my friends and tell them how much they have meant to me.

So if I could give advice from my dying experiences, it is, to always be prepared. Try to live a holy life and live a life that matters. Don’t dwell or obsess on it, but next time you decide to commit that sin knowingly because it “feels so good”, if the image of Jesus on the cross doesn’t stop you, try thinking that out of control car drivers come out of nowhere, murder and vicious crimes are way up in our society, earthquakes are waiting to happen, trees are falling…

An elm "widow maker" hung up in a oak tree
Dead elm “widow maker”

Speaking of trees falling, I’ve got to go and get that big widow maker this winter, I need the wood. I’m two for three so far on widow makers, the one that got me, knocked me out for a time and gave me nice “red hair”. I remember I came walking out of the woods not really talking in a coherent fashion and as I walked up to the house, someone was at the door for some reason. I bet I surprised them good, never saw ’em again…

So here’s what my dying experience has taught me about living:

Start your day with a prayer, live life well, be happy, make amends with old grievances and, once in a while, do something you’ve always been meaning to do.

The Cancer Story

While most of the morning World is set on getting up and attending to their lives, I have a different course duly charted.

I have terminal cancer (a rare salivary gland cancer). No cure, no reprise, just watching and waiting for that day when my life will end and wondering how it will end. Lord knows, there are many of us on this road.

Robby working on songs in a hotel room circa 2005
Songwriting in a hotel room back in the day

Radiation treatment has given me a little time, but it may have hastened the end as well. But while I am in this zone of “I’m still here”, I have begun to document this journey in song and now, as well, with this blog. Soon enough, I suspect, it will be time to set the guitar back in the case and head on home.

I invite you to join me on this journey, perhaps to inspire me, enlighten, support or criticize me, maybe relate or commiserate, but I will listen back at you and appreciate your time and pray for you if you so request.

More than anything, I also ask for your prayers. With the support of your prayers, the Lord is able to accomplish any goal. And the prayer I end my day with is simply that His will be done.

Some Background

In 2005, I was in a wonderfully prolific songwriting period. I was playing in a number of groups, as well as playing for churches, charities and for a large, local food pantry which served meals  to around five hundred families every Friday (now, much more).

I also began to notice a lump in the roof of my mouth which, over the years grew larger. There was no discomfort, however, and during this time, dentists, oral surgeons and doctors all concurred it was OK, just a palatial torus, or a calcium outgrowth. No problem.

The only real issue to me is I lost the ability to whistle. Actually that was huge to me as I loved to whistle and sing along with the birds in our woodlot. I had learned all their songs and if I was working on the property, occasionally birds flew up just to share a few “tunes”. Oh the song sparrow was more than I could handle but I could keep with the cardinal family.

Yet, despite what all the professionals said, I knew there was a problem, just a gut feeling or perhaps, more correctly, a whisper from the Holy Spirit.

Robby K after a day of cutting up firewood even though bleeding heavily from the cancer
Despite bleeding, the fireplace needs wood!

By 2010, occasional nose bleeds began often lasting a week or more and these increased in intensity and duration until by 2012, I was bleeding continuously.

At that time, a wonderful dentist arranged a visit for me to a doctor under my new health plan who quickly verified the cancer diagnosis.

I won’t go into all the details, but I denied surgery and, instead, opted for radiation designed to slow the growth of the now large tumor behind my face. I was to start 7 weeks of radiation by the year’s end but I delayed the treatment as the bleeding had progressed to orally as well and I didn’t think I would be able to lie down quietly while the radiation was administered.

In early January, 2013, on a Sunday morning, the doctors advised I go to emergency via an ambulance. There I bled out and passed out. The following Saturday, I awoke in intensive care. During those six days, the doctors stopped the bleeding by giving me massive radiation doses scatter gun style. The doctor later told me he had decided to “pull the plug” on three occasions but something held him back and, rather, they gave another round of radiation.

From there I received eight weeks of radiation, one more than planned and one week after Easter, I had completed the course. I had lost over fifty pounds during that time and developed an infection due to a plugged gland which required hospitalization. At this point, I could no longer eat food or swallow pills so all the antibiotics had to be given intraveneously, but within a week, they could no longer find a vein to tap and I was released and advised to grind the pills in water.

One month later, I ate my first real food. I found I could eat spinach and mushrooms. Shortly after that, I also became able to eat Campbell’s bean soup which I then survived on until the end of October, 2014. By October, I was able to eat some additional soft food and walk around more outside and begin to gather some strength.

And so I had turned it around. I had gained ten pounds over the summer and was doing light yard work. I was getting an MRI every three months and though I lost my doctor who had relocated to another state, I moved over to another plan and continued to receive great care, despite the inconvenience.

I had also taken up music after a hiatus of four years and had written my first song about the cancer journey, “Lookaway Friends”, which was my way of looking back at my life and the wonderful people the Lord had blessed me with to call friends.

The Journey Home

Much to the amazement of the doctors, the tumor has not resumed growth as they had anticipated. Earlier, I was give one year, perhaps two to live, but now, after over three years, I have regained weight and strength and am able to eat a lot of the old foods I used to cook.

Robby K with his daily summertime heirloom garden harvest
Time for supper in the good ‘ol days

And though I can’t really smell or taste, I am able to cook for family and friends again, once a huge passion of mine. Praise God!

I have written and demoed a lot of new music and play daily. I work on the property and garden in the short summer season, cook and attend church in the non flu season. Thus the Lord has restored unto me my family, my home, my music and my church. Amen!

The radiation has taken a toll, however. It has killed and is killing much of the tissue in my face and there has begun new complications and new bleeding. A doctor I saw this week remarked, I had killed the cancer, but now the radiation effects will kill me in a similarly brutal way unless I have the surgery.

I wrote a new song, “The Top Of The World” which is a euphemism for Heaven, a short while before seeing the doctor, (actually I had been working on it for over a year, some come easy and some don’t), which sums up the ending of my journey as I look back at my beautiful wife and how we began our life and love together (the Dance), only now we will be apart for a time until we are reunited in Heaven. We may, no, we will die, but our Spirit and Love never will.

“And that’s how a Love never dies

Starts out a Dance

And then Romance

At the Top of the World!”

The Top Of The World © 2016 Robert B. Kjonaas

Won’t You Come Home?

“You can never go home anymore”

How many times have you read or heard that?

And yet, the Spirit in the wind is calling me

Night after night I feel it

With the dawn, it beckons me

Soft and precious

Warm as the sun’s rays

“There is a new life

Boy, won’t you come home

Remember your dreams

And where we started”

Dakotah Wind ©2016 Robert B. Kjonaas, Frank Pekovich

And so, the journey has begun