June 2010 Archives

The Thing About Mountain Top Experiences


I returned last night from 6 days in Indianapolis for the first class of 2010-2011 LEAD21 training (leadership for Land-grant Universities). What a tremendous gift to focus on my own leadership skills. On Maslow's hierarchy of needs- this is the pinnacle.

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I flew from Fargo, North Dakota to Indianapolis. I was once afraid of flying after an emergency landing on Equatoriana Airlines. But now, I say "well what can I do... may as well enjoy it." And I did. The g-force of speeding down the runway, the sight of my beloved prairie and pothole ponds and wetlands below me, and finally rising into dramatic valleys of thunderhead clouds- the stuff of dreams really.

I spent a week living at the top- in every sense that the 21st century has to offer. There were hours devoted to dissecting the feedback on our leadership skills (from bosses, direct report, peers...), practice conflict management, team dynamics, dealing with competing values, and building a group of peer coaches that we will work with over the next year.

In addition to the intellectual heights, we were cared for so that no earthly/physiological needs were even thought of. The healthiest, freshest food available in world were supplied in abundance. We were surrounded by platters of local strawberries, fresh blueberries, pineapple, melons, greens and vegetables. We were served gourmet healthy foods- paella, roasted lamb, seafood, soups, whole grains like quinoa, egg white omelets, and Ethiopian coffee where ever we turned. Brown people served our every needs- straightening our rooms, pouring our wine.

I entered the University of Indiana's hotel/conference complex on Sunday afternoon and did not step foot outside until the stretch limo picked us up on Friday afternoon. I touched ground in Fargo- a brilliantly easy international airport- and headed south through North Dakota, then South Dakota on my way to Big Stone County, Minnesota.

My first and only stop was on the land of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. It was Friday night and it seemed that I'd hit the hot spot for action. As I stood around the gas pump, I was conscious that my 5-year-old used car was the fanciest/nicest in the lot and I was the lightest skinned person in the crowd. The mom next to me had a crying babe in the back seat- she sing-sang to her sweet babe as we filled our cars across from each other.

One of my favorite songs played through my mind as I lingered among the Oyate- the people. Please take a listen below to Keith Secola.

I walked slowly into the hot spot- a nice sized store on one end of the complex. I was hungry and I walked the six aisle of food. There was not one single fresh item of any sort in the entire store- it was convenience style. It was entirely and completely opposite the last meal I had had in Indianapolis. It was the anti-food pyramid. Indianapolis enjoyed the solid foundation of the food pyramid and Indian Country had nothin' at all but the crap at the top. I checked again- yup- looks to me that Maslow's hierarchy of needs starts with food.


I finally strolled back across the parking lot to my, now damn nice looking, car. I had some jalepeno almonds in hand- the healthiest food I found. I drove a couple miles down the road and saw a car on the side of the road- I looked and saw they had stopped to see a moose in the wetland grasses. I rolled down my window and yelled to the group of three Native men- "is that really a moose??!!" "Yeah" he said "Been hanging around here since last fall." We all watched the moose in our cars for a while, then did illegal u-turns to get back home in opposite directions. I passed a passel of fox kits, geese, ducks, pelicans, deer, and the bounty of this good land- once only theirs. I did avoid hitting a skunk.

The irony of the journey from Indianapolis to Indian country burst some bubble in me. Like bursting a blister- it stings so much worse after it is burst. That's the thing about mountaintop experiences- it's actually harder to walk back down the mountain. Causes blisters. Next year LEAD21 is working to recruit a cohort of our colleagues from the 1994 Tribal Land-grant colleges. Here's hoping, eh?

It's been a good year for the roses


Artist: Ivy Popow, Oil and Acrylic

I stole a moment for myself this morning at dawn. I had jumped out of bed like a scared cat at 2:45 am this morning due to a large and pressing work project. I found myself humming the song "I don't like Mondays" and I was out of caffinated espresso. That's about as dark as it gets.

I sat working intently until just before dawn when suddenly the world was awash in pink. Everything! Everywhere! I jumped up from the table, threw on my shoes and headed out into the prairie. There was a vertical stripe of rainbow rising up from the south horizon- it made me gasp outloud. I walked down the gravel road and found so many prairie roses in full bloom- lovely flowers all along the sides of the roads and into the prairie preserves. The buds were bright pink and the flowers every hue of pink. Many of the petals had just fallen into the untravelled road- so I was walking like a bride following the flower girl among the pink petals.

I walked to the wetlands- the duck, pelicans, geese, two muskrats sat on the front porch of their lodge watching the sunrise as well. There was only a sliver of clear sky on the very edge of the horizon where the rising sun came through to turn all the rest of the low grey clouds brilliant pink- in every direction.

I walked back- smiling.

The Small Easy


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The boys and I arrived a bit late for the Clinton Days parade. As we ran down the sidewalk trying to catch up, a fireman rolled down the firetruck window and asked if the boys would like to ride with him in the parade. I didn't know him and he didn't know my kids- but I didn't give a second thought to lifting my boys up into the fire engine. I could hear them introducing themselves as the truck continued on the parade route. I figured I'd find the boys somewhere near the end of the 1 mile parade route.

After the parade and a fine lunch at The Cabin, the fire station was set up for kids games. Again, I didn't think twice about leaving the kids there while I crossed the street for groceries. While there I mentioned to Bonnie, owner of the grocery store, that I could sure use a hot drink. She made me a cup of Fair Trade Colombian Coffee in the back of the store and we sat at the table outside on the grocery store deck- surrounded by huge pots of flowers- fire station in sight and the sounds of happy children.

Then - joy of joys- the firemen set up the fire hoses on either side of the block and groups of kids took turns trying to blast a ball back and forth at each other. My little guys each got a shot with the fire hose and got soaked. Jens- all 38 pounds of him- was shirtless and freezing from the cold well water. So it was time to go home

The day was topped off with a live band and street dance at night. The whole day is put on by the Clinton Commercial Club- the women's service club.

My memory imprint of yesterday is a relaxing sense of fun and being cared for... myself and my kids. The difference between this small town and life in St. Paul is, for me, the absence of a parental anxiety, mostly subconscious. There really is a village taking care of its children. A few weeks ago we were putting in a community garden at the Care Center in town-- one of the big Dad's yelled at my boys to behave. The group of about 30 of us chuckle when I said "Yup- it Takes a Village to yell at my children."



Take my love, Take my land. Take me where I cannot stand. I don't care. I'm still free. You can't take the the sky from me. ~ Firefly series 2002.

I found the most wonderful of escapes- Serenity and Firefly. I asked myself- how did I ever miss this incredible 2002 tv series that ran on Fox. And then I remember- "oh yeah- 2002 was a wonderful and devastating year." I didn't watch any tv that year. But I did rock my Milly in my arms all day long and we watched The Never Ending Story and Singing in the Rain. Now those are great memories.

I found Firefly just a few weeks ago. But now it's spring --- come summer. And that is not a time for relaxing, serenity, or any such stuff. This is the time to make hay. While the sun shines. And it is shining. My grandmother Alvina would have never sat around on a Friday night or any other time to watch a bunch of old tv shows when there was a garden to tend, chickens to feed, grass to mow, birds to mourn in oil slicks, house to clean, wrongs to right, and windmills to tilt at.

And so a tired woman on a Friday night prays for a big rain shower to wash away the guilt of sitting in front of the tv for a spell. Cue up some Serenity on Netflix. Feed the kids popcorn for dinner. Escape for a bit "to the black. Tell 'um I ain't comin' back. Burn the land, boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me."

A Day to Remember- Memorialize


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Memorial Day flag raising in the Village Square- onlookers with hands on hearts

I had a Memorial Day much like many people around our region had Memorial Day. For me it was strikingly stirring.

Our veterans from town and the surrounding countryside all turned out in their crisp uniforms- including our WWII vets. The entire high school band was there in force- even the seniors who had graduation ceremonies (and parties) the day before and who probably had 0 to 3 hours of sleep before lining up at 8:30 am on Monday morning.

As the solemn, crisp procession went down mainstreet-my two little boys (still in kindergarten) asked if they could join the parade. Without a single concern I patted them on the backs and sent them out into the street. They were surrounded on all sides by caring community members who know them by name. At the end of mainstreet the flag was raised to half mast and the commander yelled "Fallout for Legion members taking the bus." Support for the elderly among their ranks.

The rest of us followed the procession the 5-6 blocks to the school gym- the band playing somber songs. People thronged through the streets and side streets to the gym- through a town with sidewalks.
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One elderly woman stood in front of her house- the paint was peeling- her flag was flying- and tears were in her eyes. I don't know her personally or her story- but maybe she was recalling a husband, son, brother, uncle who had known war.

Inside the gym we all sing together and then the names of every fallen soldier from this area over the past 130 years is read off. Dozens of Mobergs, seven Hagens from WWII alone. We had a speaker- himself just a second generation immigrant from Sweden.

Following the ceremonies the crowd went to the cemetery and then to the Clinton Memorial Building for a potluck dinner. We went to the potluck last year- but not this year. Jens said "Veterans eat only plants." "No dear, that would be vegetarians, not Veterans."

From the time my kids were babies we played with blocks. We always start with a "firm foundation." The phrase "firm foundation" was among all of their first baby phrases. Because the first thing you need in building a block tower (or a life) is a firm foundation--otherwise it's all for naught.

Robert Putman, a researcher out of Harvard, looked at "social capital" in the United States. Social capital is defined, by some, as the "goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and camaraderie among group of individuals and families who make up a social unity." Putman used many measures to determine which states had the highest social capital- the result is this blurry map below. Maybe by coincidence or fate- we landed in the geographic center of social capital on the North American continent.


When I was traveling in Guatamala- hitchhiking and camping- I stayed at a remote farm in the hills. It was run by 2 young Americans and I enjoyed a clean bed and great food. I remember talking with the other gringos about my longing for Minnesota- what an oasis of fairness, goodness, kindness, etc. etc. etc... My new "friends" looked at me like I was nuts- bragging- cracking up from too many long months on the hard, dusty mochilaro trail. I quit talking and retreated to my dreams of home. And you know what? I'm not disappointed with this place- almost 20 years later it still lives up to my visions.

And my friends in Guatamala? Sadly, the husband (a farm boy from Iowa) had his head cut off by the army and put on a post in his yard just a few weeks after I left their farm in the back of a local's pickup truck. I was already heading north. Heading home.

And here I am. This is a good place to build upon a firm foundation. I don't even have to lay the stone myself. Just stand among the capstones that have been set before me. And hold together that firm foundation for a generation- hopefully so my children can then take up the yoke - where the women are strong, the men are good lookin' and the children are above average.

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