August 30, 2010


Midwestern lore has it that when the goldenrod blooms, it's time to return to school. Well, the fields are a-full of these plants, friends, so for me it's back to teaching. I do still hope to post at least once a week. We'll see. 

A special thanks to all of you who have read along and commented this summer—whether online or in person. Writing is a solitary art; when I compose these words, it really is just me and the swallows twittering outside my window. So it's likely that whatever you've said to me about my crazy blog-world-endeavor, I remember it. When I doubt whether to press publish—because writing has always felt so private and personal—I think of your kind eyes on some other end of these internets, and I'm heartened. You have made sharing easier for me, and I guess the whole point of this post is just to say thanks. 

You’re a good bunch. Be well, and enjoy your patch of home.

August 25, 2010

That's Nice

Being humble is a cultivated quality in many parts of Minnesota, so it's appropriate that "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" is an understated moniker. The official count of bodies of water that measure at more than ten acres is about 11,842. According to Wikipedia (gasp!), that amounts to more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined. So, the only things that differentiate us from them are palm trees and salt water. And snow, I guess. And ice. But anyway, these lakes are their own kind of Eden, and it's a thing to be thankful for that most people, regardless of their socioeconomic state, have a circle of water within the reach of their legs or persuasive please-take-me powers. As my sweet grandma would say, that's nice.

It's also nice (and fun) to skim over a list of lake names. Since I was small, it's charmed me to find that a lake and I could be called the same thing. Imagine dreaming you had a twin, and finding her blue and dancing, plump with kind clouds.

August 23, 2010

Deep Lake

In the morning the lake is dappled, full of sleepy light clinging to reeds and hiding among lily pads. I peer down and there are ten-thousand kingdoms: one is full of long arms twirling toward the water's top, another strains its fingers in ruler-straight lines, and an underwater cloud of mossy tendrils breathes as one, grows as one, should not be disturbed by a paddle. There are whole regions of shadow; down there it is cold and dark and deep.
In the afternoon the light is loud, which gives everything else permission. The wind teases the surface, and the lake plunks at its touch, or laughs. The cattails and bullrushes bump their slim shoulders, shivering despite the heat. Fish leap from the water and bellyflop back. Dragonflies flit. Spiders spin. Always there is a boy of about ten unafraid of splinters racing down a wooden dock and catapulting himself through the light into the kind of dark he will be afraid of at night, but not now. Not under the hands of such a sun. Not when there is so much cheering.
In the evening I believe I'm in a world more luminous, more tender, than I have ever known, and I memorize how the light sifts through the day's sieve. I smell the earth and water cooling. And I listen to the crows and crickets and toads and turtles and loons and yellow perch as they find somewhere or someone they love and begin to sing. That is when the sun slides from shine to glow, from yellow to red, from preening to blush. It is like watching someone beautiful undress.
And at nightall light gone except for the far-away gifts of stars and moonthe lake sighs, and is quiet. And everything I recognized before turns into something else, something I will never understand and do not need to. If I breathe, I float.

-- Published in Orion's January/February 2011 issue

August 16, 2010

Main Street

I read Sinclair Lewis' Main Street (1920) one year ago, and I can easily say that it was the book that got me roving down this "flyover land" road. It filled me with so many thoughts. Many times I wanted to reach into Lewis' Sauk Centre grave and shake the man awake, ask him if his Minnesota hometown was really that bad. Other times, I had to stay quiet, admit that his less-than-glowing observations were (from my own small-town experience) spot on.

It's an interesting and important question for a writer: what do you choose to show? I guess, if you're honest, the best answer is "all of it." But we each see the world so differently. The moment you stop writing for yourself, you are bound to get something for someone else wrong.

So, just tell the truth, then, in the ways you know how: an image, an emotion, a character, one word after another.

I've always thought of you, Mr. Lewis, as the sullen boy at the back of the classroom, and I doubt if we'd have had much comfort between us. But I thank you for your book. Because even though you're long gone, your words still make me think over important things in a way a lot of other people's don't.

MinnPost - 80 years after Nobel Prize, Sauk Centre remembers Sinclair Lewis

August 13, 2010

Love Poem

As evidenced by many of the poems collected in Silence in the Snowy Fields (1962), Robert Bly looked toward the landscapes of Minnesota and often saw:

Cornfields, cornstalks
Catholic churches
Box-elder trees, box-elder bugs
Prairie grasses
Chickens' eyes
Norwegian immigrants
Alfalfa fields
Turkey sheds
Telephone poles
Corn stubble

Perhaps not the most romantic list.

And yet, the verses he called "Love Poem" go like this:

     "When we are in love, we love the grass,
     And the barns, and the light poles,
     And the small mainstreets abandoned all night." 

And to me, this seems exactly, simply, accurate. When we lovewhether a person or a placethere is possibility for beauty in everything.

August 9, 2010


It's interesting to think about the particular careers we've chosen, why who we are is right for what we do. "Pushiness" in general has always made me uneasy, so I find it a gift that I've maneuvered my way into a high school classroom with lovely windows where I'm allowed to not sell or convince but guide. My desire to write is a form of this gentle scouting, toogoing out, blazing a trail, making sense of what I find in whatever way I can, and then saying, "Hey, if you'd like, feel free to come along."

I just finished teaching a youth writing course at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis that I called "This Wild World: Writing About Nature." And I suppose this is where I do try to convince you: it was pretty sweet. Before class I'd walk out into fields and snip wild flowers and elegant weeds; I'd find poems by Mary Oliver, essays by Gary Paulsen, quotes by Thoreau; I'd think up questions that didn't have answers. And in class we'd talk and write about what and how the natural world can teach us. Even a blade of grass.
I'll go back to my full-time classroom in a few weeks, and where I will have less freedom in regard to answersthere are, after all, standardized testsI'm hopeful that teaching experiences like the one I just had will stay fresh in my mind, and that between wrong and right, I will walk to those windows, pull back the blinds, and say, "Look!"

August 6, 2010

Tour de Minnie

My last post inspired me to learn a bit more about bike trails in Minnesota, and it turns out that within its winding dimensions exists something else to be proud of: Minnesota has more miles of bikeways than any other state. In 2006, we had over 1500 miles of the good stuff.

Red = state trail; Blue = regional trail 
That might seem a little strange considering that we're, you know, covered in snow a good portion of the year. But we Minnesotans just plain like to be outside. We like to look around. And if we can do so unfettered by scarves and thick mittens, the wind at our necks not an icy blast but natural AC, all the better. 

The Gitchi-Gami Trail is one of the newest state-led projects and promises to offer some of the most spectacular views to be had on two-wheels. When it's finished, it will run about eighty-six miles along the length of Lake Superior's north shore. I just found this virtual tour created by the DNR, and aside from the elevator music, it makes me want to pack up and head out. There's so much to see and so many ways to do so; it kind of bikes me crazy.

August 2, 2010

Pale Lakes

"Beneath the waters, since I was a boy,
I have dreamt of strange and dark treasures,
Not of gold, or strange stories, but the true
Gift, beneath the pale lakes of Minnesota."

-- Robert Bly
From "After Drinking All Night"