Showing posts from June, 2011

Lake Sagatagan

I have several "favorite places on earth" that range in location from gardens in Germany to cliffs in Hawaii to some crazy peacock ranch in Lubock, Texas, but one that is closer to home is Lake Sagatagan. Apart from its beauty, it's one of the only lakes I know (outside of The Boundary Waters) that has both a no development and no motor policy. There are a few St. John's University buildings, including the chapel, but other than that, the lake is surrounded by light and dark greens: maple, oak, birch, elm, pine, lily pad, bulrush, water iris. The water is a perfect cold, a perfect clear. And canoes are king.

Two weekends ago, I went canoe fishing on Sagatagan with my Dad-o. It was an overcast day, but that made the sunnies easier to see, and I've always loved being choosey with the fate of my worms. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven -- up they came, energetic and yellow-bellied and big enough to eat, and I wondered aloud why I'd let a year pass since I&#…

Decorative Fans


The Heartland

The other weekend I took a road trip to visit my grandma. To start, I drove straight west on Highway 7 for two hours, then southwest for another two. I hadn't made this particular trip by myself maybe ever, and for a while I lost myself in my college CDs, the open windows, the sunshine highlighting the tops of hills and the bellies of little crooked streams. We'd had days and days of rain, so the land was lush.

It didn't take long, though, maybe an hour west of Minneapolis, before I was struck by the ubiquitous presence of farms. Grain, dairy, turkey--they spread out on each side of the highway, patchwork squares extending into the horizon. Flyover Country.

I did not grow up on a farm. My grandmother did, in Iowa. Two of my cousins did, in Pipestone. A few of my high school friends did: Elisha, Robyn, Mary Jo.

But, no. What many easterners and westerners might think about the heartland--everyone tied somehow to a barn and a silo--isn't true, at least not true for most of …

St. Croix River at Sunset


"Happy is England"

Happy is England! I could be content
To see no other verdure than its own;
To feel no other breezes than are blown
Through its tall woods with high romances blent:
Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
For skies Italian, and an inward groan
To sit upon an Alp as on a throne,
And half forget what world or worldling meant.
Happy is England, sweet her artless daughters;
Enough their simple loveliness for me,
Enough their whitest arms in silence clinging:
Yet do I often warmly burn to see
Beauties of deeper glance, and hear their singing,
And float with them about the summer waters.

-- by John Keats

A Minnesota Year

Laura Ingalls Dugout Site

Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks 
of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake.
Is it any wonder that with childhood books like these I've developed a proclivity for place-centered literature?

Over Memorial Day weekend, my mother accompanied me to Walnut Grove in southwestern Minnesota for a very specific purpose: to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. I would have gone with no one but her. She read all the Little House books to me when I was a child, and some of my most vivid memories from my single-digit years are a concoction of her voice, the inevitable (if imagined) winds off the prairie, the quilt my mother and I were often cozied under, and Laura's flapping bonnet. To say I loved these books is an understatement. They were one of my earliest experiences of living vicariously through the lives of others, of traveling through words.

The museum itself is not much--lots of books and souvenirs and several replicated late-1800s buildin…

Plant Literate #5: Wild Columbine

For the uninitiated, prairies call to mind only a few colors: green, yellow, brown--or some mix of the three. In actuality, though, the myriad wildflowers found amid the grasses and on their edges are multi-hued and brilliant, deserving of all the second-looks they inspire.

Say hello to the wild columbine.

My mother and I guessed honeysuckle first, as its little bell-flowers hang similiarly and smell just as sweet. But later we were corrected, and happily so. I would have hated to miss out on details like this: boiled, it can be used for hair wash; and crushed, its seeds can be rubbed on palms as love potion. Why not? You'd certainly smell delightful.

The wild columbine is my fifth Thirty Before Thirty plant, and I must say I've adored this part of my list. I've paid so much more attention this spring, reallyreally slowed down and looked and examined and sniffed and listened. List or not, blog or not, I think I've found a hobby I will enjoy for the rest of my life.

Pipestone National Monument

"When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything." -- Black Elk

I can promise you one thing: when my brother and I, as children, careened around the Pipestone National Monument's Circle Trail (through prairie, over rocks, up cliffs, down ledges, through prairie), we were not thinking about prayer. And we certainly didn’t whisper. The sacredness of the place never crossed our minds. Our parents were from Pipestone, the small southwestern Minnesota town where the monument resides, and the park seemed as much our backyard playground as it had once been theirs. Besides, we were eight and five, and it was just cool to climb stuff.
But when I was older—twelve, maybe—I was given my first pair of dangling, red pipestone earrings, carved into the shape of leaves, and later—at fifteen?—I received a small ceremonial pipe. There were conversations surrounding these gifts, explanations of how the pipestone was quarried from the earth, how it had been a part of Native Ame…


"For a year or two I had been looking at trees, fields, landscape with a secret, strong exaltation. In some moods, some days, I could feel for a clump of grass, a rail fence, a stone pile, such pure unbounded emotion as I used to hope for, and have inklings of, in connection with God."

-- From Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

On Top of a Haybale

One way to spend a Saturday morning:
Drive west until the rolling hills of Wright and Carver County flatten out, until every other turn left or right off the highway would be onto gravel, until the thought why not fills you up, flows into your fingers, convinces you to take the next turn.
Stop the car. Step out. Feel the wet mud coating your shoes, the dew still heavy on the long grasses. Go meet those hulks of friends that smile back sleepily,  that are grateful to have survived the winter, too. 
Discover that they are wrapped in thin wire.  That they are much taller than you'd imagined, from behind your window inside your car on the highway. Place your hands on them. 
You are trespassing. But they are complicit, and say nothing to discourage you.

Sing something.