« The Good People of Chokio | Main | For the Beauty of the Earth »

Lost Menagerie

lostmenagari shrunk.JPG

Last Thursday I was a "distinguished environmental scientist" on a panel at the Form + Content Gallery in Minneapolis- packed to standing room only. The exhibition was by artist Christine Baeumler whose work I've loved, admired, and collected for over 10 years. She soulfully captures the poignant beauty, tinged with grief, of the natural world slipping away under our watch. One of Chris' works is the lovely center piece of our home -- a mosaic painting of 8 extinct fish speicies. It's just about the only thing we yell at the kids not to wreck-- "Quit hanging from the radiator pipes-- You'll hurt the art!!"

But I shook for two days; move by the exhibit, the panel discussion, my own fears.

On the panel, Kris Johnson and I talked about the Minnesota 2050 work/research we've been doing the past 1.5 years. We've been working with groups around the State to create scenarios of the year 2050. Most people, from Grand Marais to Worthington- Crookston to Winona, believe that we are in for a rough ride ahead what with intersection of climate change, peak oil, mass extinctions, economic strains, etc... Hope lies in what emerges from the ashes. Brent Olson, a writer from Big Stone County, articulates this perfectly in the scenario he wrote for Minnesota 2050 (click "continue reading" to read it). I read this scenario for the crowd and they were moved.

We are living in a time of transformation- that's the message I see in Lost Menagerie.

Scenarios – Township Meeting, Big Stone County April 2050

Brent Olson
April 13th, 2007

The small brown horse scampered across the muddy February landscape.

“I’ll call this meeting to order,? John said, his body rocking in gentle rhythm. A voice in his ear trilled, “John, I’m in the freakn’ shower. How am I going to keep notes??

“Maria, you may be the secretary, but you haven’t taken notes once in your life. The ‘puter does that. You just wanted to mess with us by presenting the image of you in the shower.?

“Maybe, maybe not. Is the agenda approved??

“I’ll approve it.? The voice was deeper, with a faint accent. “I do want to add an item about visioning.?

“Ahmad, you Turkish twit, I don’t care what kind of crapola went on around the Caspian, but ‘round here visioning is still a hanging offense.? An assenting chorus from the other council members filled the air, and they moved on to the financial report.

“We have a current balance of $17,342, there is still nearly 26,000 bushels of corn, two casks of brandy, 73 wheels of Cheddar and I think the prosciutto will be ready to eat by Christmas. In addition, the Omaha community owes us server time and those guys out around Clear Lake have promised three loads of hay and a PlayStation XX in exchange for five days of no-wind electricity. Rochester called and they are still willing to pay a surgical procedure up to a transplant or seven appendectomies, in exchange for our spare bearing for the Vesta 1.79 turbine.?

“Why are we still getting the kids video games? Couldn’t we cancel the PlayStation XX for a turbine bearing repair??

“Is that a motion, Fred? If not, shut up – I don’t want my kids hearing that.?

“Well, if the rest of you guys don’t want it in a motion, I certainly won’t interfere with the will of the whole.?

“Plus, your kids would slit your throat and you know it. Next item.?

“Public Defense here. Those folks who made it here all the way from Belize are settled down by the lake. They say they know aquaculture, and if we will feed them for six months, they’ll be turning out crawfish and have pens built for panfish.?

“Is there a motion??

“I move we provide them with a Level Three diet, with milk supplements for the children, for the period of eight months, at which point if they’re not pulling their weight we put them on the road again.?
“I’ll second that, but keep my wife away from those kids, or she’ll never agree to putting them on the road. All those in favor??

John didn’t think he heard a unanimous vote, but it seemed like more than a hundred, which would be a clear majority so he didn’t even ask for a tally vote.

The grass was greening around him, with only a few grimy piles of snow in the shadows of the wind turbines that were the community’s main cash crop. Angora goats grazed on the last remnants of the leafy spurge which had almost ruined the pastures until the guy in Dickenson had hooked them up with a goat rancher in the Black Hills with excess inventory.

He dismounted and opened and closed a gate leading into the Season 6 rotational pasture. The mixed prairie grasses were still nearly head high, even after a winter’s weather. The ground squished around his boots and he knelt long enough to scoop up a handful of mud, kneading it gently as he stared off to the horizon. Felt good – still a clay loam, but pretty good body and organic matter.

“Any other business to be brought before this board at this time?? He paused a moment and then said, “Hearing none, this meeting of the board of Otrey Township, Big Stone County, State of Minnesota is declared adjourned until next month, date to be determined by when we finish planting wheat.?

The little green light in the corner of his peripheral vision, indicating a group conversation, shut off and he was alone with the springtime. He slowly rose to his feet, knees and ankles cracking, after a morning on horseback feeling every day of his 83 years. How much longer? he wondered. I’ve paid my dues. I was forty when the first crash came, the Middle East blowing up, the no gas, no electricity, no nothing. He remembered being cold and hungry, everyone scared, and yet holding this place together, cutting loose from the grid and getting all the work done during daylight days or when the wind had the turbines cranking out juice, shivering by a woodburner on the cold January days when the wind didn’t blow. Catching a deep breath when no one was starving and then the harder work of convincing the neighbors to return to society, hooking back up to the grid, taking in refugees when they could, working to build the connections that could get you through the hard times. Washington not much help, not even before the tsunami and not at all afterwards. The dark years took him away, but then his eye focused on what was nearly beneath his boot. He reached down, plucked, and returned to his feet.

He stretched, and led the horse down the hill to the house and his granddaughter headed up to take the horse to the barn. Eighty years of being a farmer made him not aware that he was aware of everything, from the grape vines along every path to the solar collectors running the water treatment plant.

“Hey sweetheart,? his wife said as he came through the door, “How was your day??

“Pasture looks good, the damn town meeting is over for another month and I saw a blue heron on the slough. Oh, and I found a crocus for you.? He held out a small blue flower on a drooping stem. She patted his chest and stuck the flower in a jelly jar above the sink. “Life is good, darling, life is good.?


TrackBack URL for this entry:


I was thinking this weekend that if you Midwesterners are the ants preparing for tomorrow, we Californians are the grasshoppers, enjoying today.

Hey Dan,

How did that story end anyway? Did the friendly ants make room and give food to the grasshopper-- in a Minnesota nice kinda way?

You're always welcomed here in BSC Dan.

After reading all the postings you have put on the site I am homesick for the farm. I had forgotten how quiet,peaceful and beautiful the farm can be.
I really enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to future postings. Love to all five of you, Aunt Corrine


As always, lovely words matching equally lovely insights.

Wish I could have been at the "Lost Menagerie" event. I concur with your sense of Chris's work: poignant beauty, tinged with grief. I would add that her exhibit filled with me wonder and empathy. When I went through her exhibit, I felt as though I was swimming among the other creatures she had rendered in her pieces. Their eyes were watching me as much as I was watching them. What a wonderful artist!

And a hearty hello to "my olde friend" Dan Ray. I often think fondly about our encounters on the Mississippi River years ago, Dan. I am so glad to read your words. I hope you are having fun with the california grasshoppers. I am still having fun with the minnesota ants.

Thanks for letting me add my thoughts.

Brian Stenquist

Post a comment