July 2008 Archives

Map of the World

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On their back were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.
-- Cormac McCarthy, The Road


Our First Farmers Market Stand

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On Saturday morning I was up before sunrise and in the garden picking our vegetables to take to the Ortonville Farmers Market. The half moon was over my head as the sun came over the horizon. The Mourning Doves cooing and replying to each across the fields. I pull a bush of snopeas into my lap and uncover a shining chunk of granite underneath. Even the rocks are beautiful in this field. I'm content with my morning coffee at hand.

We harvested new red potatoes, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, snopeas, and beets. I also brought along a platefull of some homemade, organic monster cookies.

Mike set up our small table in front of the old Columbia Hotel in Ortonville. Jame Howard Kunstler would agree that this old hotel is the type of architecture that makes America worth caring about and even fighting for. Our being at the farmers' martket doubled the number of farmers from 1 to 2. It was fun to meet and visit with the local folks-- got to see my former English teacher from high school in Silver Bay! We sold out of eggplant, new potatoes, broccoli, and cookies.

And Alma was a lot happier to be there than it appears in this picture. She stood on the sidewalk waving to every car and holding a sign she made that said "Vegetables." [Note to self, leave adorable, energetic boys on the farm next time]

I'm still thinking about how this plays out in our lives. At this point, it's not really a money making venture-- more of a social affair blended with community service.

Suffer No Illusions

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Last Friday we laid Uncle Conrad to rest at Artichoke Lake, Minnesota-- a beautiful, lonely resting ground out on the prairie. Forty-five years ago there was still a general store at Artichoke and the name of the town appears on most Minnesota maps. But no people live there now.

The message at the funeral created a buzz around Big Stone County, in part because of the length, but mostly because of the content. The preacher, Brother Jobe, came straight out of the distant past or perhaps the not so distant future. He flew in from Pennsylvania (note--he wasn’t native to this place) and was presented the honor of giving the funeral message.

Brother Jobe’s message was old-timey, riveting, and delivered with the best oratorical skills I’ve ever experienced. I was rapt at his words and gestures. Brother Jobe called for the complete subjugation of women in business, church, government, and home. He called for the uplifting of men. The 80 and 90 year old women in front of me squirmed in their seats.

Out here on the prairie they suffer no illusions about women. Uncle Daniel said- with an economy of words that I lack- this land would not have been settled without pioneer women. Leadership, fortitude, grit, strength- was called for from every pioneer—man or woman. Men and women had different work- but every effort was needed and valued- a partnership for survival.

When a First Lady at the turn of the 20th century began a national campaign to eliminate girls athletics in high schools, rural Minnesota was among the very last to abolish women’s basketball. My grandma- who would have been 100- played basketball in high school. Why was rural Minnesota the last to ban women’s sports? Because those immigrants who settled this harsh prairie had no illusions about the frailty of women.

My Apologies for the Storm

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I had last Friday off from "work" and so was able to wash 8 big loads of laundry and hang them to dry on the line. It was hot and my laundry made the air even muggier. The wind whipped through our clothes and blankets and up into the sky-- forming that thunderhead at the end of the line.

I've become somewhat addicted to the on-line weather radar from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration. So much for just ~being~ with the weather. I want to know what storm fronts are forming across the Dakotas and heading my way. So as my laundry dried the radar showed moisture rising from my township in Big Stone County. The pattern over our farm formed a tiny smiley face :) of wet air rising. Standing in the yard, I could follow the wind straight down my lines of laundry, up into the sky to that thunderhead, and on towards the good people of Clontarf, Benson, and Willmar.

Glad no one was hurt in Willmar as that 8 mile path of tornado crossed the prairie. Sorry about your homes and buildings. I'll try to be more careful with my laundry in the future.

Trading time for mileage...

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Photo credit: Gary Greff, www.EnchantedHighway.net

The high price of gas is helping me savor my time on the road. I've changed my route to take the single lane Highway 12 and lowered my speed from 80 to 55 mph. I like it.

The other day I left my house about 5:00 am and drove 40 miles before I met the first car as I was crossing the Chippewa River coming into Benson. At first I reflexively worried about meeting troopers, but at 55 I don't have a care in the world. Roll down the windows, open the sun roof, turn on the satellite radio-- listen to Bob Edwards interviewing Lester Brown. Actually, I listened to every kind of music imaginable. Thoroughly enjoying the journey instead of barreling towards the destination. When I got to the Cities -- merging from 394 to 94 --I know I was the happiest person on the road.

My gas mileage went from 22 mpg to 32mpg. Round trip I spent 2 extra hours in the car, but I saved $22.70 in gas.

The other nice thing about high oil prices is that I appreciate being able to drive- that I have a car, that gas is available, its preciousness now reflected in its price. I recognize that I have the freedom of speed and movement-- all freedom comes at a cost.

Have you ever considered how perfectly smooth a newly paved road is? It's a delight to drive-- not a bump nor blemish. I fully expect that when the oil runs out we'll have other cool fuels to run our cars. But what will replace the petroleum in asphalt? Look down at that road-- it is held together with oil. What will keep up our road infrastructure? No one knows. So I'm just gonna savor that long ribbon of highway stretching from Artichoke Minnesota to St. Paul.

Trading time for mileage- and a bit of gratitude.

What's Really in This Jam?

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You might spread this strawberry jam on your toast and eat it without hardly registering the complex flavors of the organic berries picked in a drizzling June rain, the air chilly on the edge of cold, and the mingling of grief and comfort. These berries were cooked into jam straight from the garden on a grey June day.

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Last Saturday started with the kids and I leaving the farm set for an adventure (well at least I was and the kids had no choice). We drove due south trying to find a road crossing the 20 mile long Marsh Lake and Preserve. We drove into the preserve where the Minimum Maintenance: Travel at Your Own Risk road gave way to a grass track- “hang on kids!? I yelled as I floored the minivan through some mud spots. It occurs to me that I don’t have my cell phone. The egrets and herons rise up looking like Pterodactyls in a world before time. When I can’t drive any further I get out of the van, climb the rise that’s blocking our way, and see miles of marshy land and lake. Time to turn around. I’m so glad I’m not a pioneer trying to cross this wet land with oxen and wagon. We drive around Marsh Lake on the county highways and make our way to Brad and Kristi’s Coyote Grange to U-pick organic strawberries.

While the kids ran wild, Kristi and I picked berries side by side. She’s a connoisseur of berries like a sommelier is a connoisseur of wine. She brought me different varieties to taste- I liked each one better than the last. Kristi and I have a common bond—we’ve both lost a sweet little lovey— our darling daughters Nora and Milly Rose. Over the berry picking, pausing once in a while to look into each other’s eyes, we talked about our love, loss, trauma, and continuing passages to… what (?). The feelings of grief and comfort passed through our fingers and into these berries. Our combined five children play around us—dripping with strawberry juice as they eat their weight in berries. Alma is hanging close by to hear the retelling of losing her sister (she was only 3.5 when Milly died).

Hungry, we left Coyote Grange and headed to Appleton for lunch. At the café on mainstreet we met a woman without a home-- camping in the city park and visiting her boyfriend in the prison. She’d found a job in town, but couldn’t see how she would get a roof over her head. She’d come in the cafe from the cold drizzle and could only afford a cup of coffee. “I’m not much for eating anyway…? We bought her some lunch and were back on our way. Halfway home we pulled into the Drywood Church’s gravel parking lot and all took a ½ hour nap. It was gloriously refreshing.

So maybe if you’re lucky enough to get some of this jam (we picked 11 gallons of strawberries so don’t be surprised if you do) you’ll now taste all the loveliness and heartache of a day in and around Big Stone County.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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