Minnesota…to Vietnam

Minnesota is fading quickly into the background as I immerse myself in preparing for Asia. Oh yeah and then there’s also work—long hours because of evenings managing the theatre for renters; preparing my apartment for a stay by the bro and Marsha while they search for their Albuquerque winter apartment, and the minutia of daily life such as putting gas in the car and doing the laundry and watering the plants—the boring stuff.

Really though, my time is being consumed by something far more meaningful than all of that. Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War is available for streaming in its 18-hour entirety on PBS. I’m through the third episode and find myself alternating between wanting to weep; wanting to rid the world of all politicians, and simply giving up on the idea of humanity altogether. Those years were my formative years in so many ways—all the major stuff of my life happened with Vietnam and Dylan and JFK/Johnson/ Nixon/ McGovern as soundtrack and wallpaper.

I’m very anxious to write about all of this as the series goes on and as my trip planning, especially to Vietnam, moves forward.

First though—the Minnesota  Road Trip Wrap.

Leaving Rob and Marsha’s summer home in the Minnesota wilds.

Heading down the road to Albuquerque…for ‘beans and jerky’?



My River Runs To Thee

My River runs to thee—
Blue Sea! Wilt welcome me?
My River wait reply—
Oh Sea—look graciously—
I’ll fetch thee Brooks
From spotted nooks—
Say—Sea—Take Me!

(Emily Dickinson)

Beautiful morning along the Mississippi. I tried to make my Galaxy do more than it can do, forgetting for a moment she does not like to zoom. But the results are sort of interesting all the same. Enjoy. Maybe. A little. Or not.

The last one is quite ethereal, no?


Later on a pond of Mississippi backwater in Robert’s Green Hornet.



Fall, leaves, fall

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow

Blossom where the rose should grow;

I shall sing when night’s decay

Ushers in a drearier day.

(Emily Bronte)



I’m going to be cremated. Partially so I don’t have to be stuck in one place. First of all…a handful or so of my ashes (mixed with Max, my last border collie’s) must go out on the Old Place, some more in the Bosque down by Tingley Beach and at Neset Camping in Byglandsfiord, and…finally the rest should be here at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Northome, Minnesota. Burrowed in right between mom and dad’s graves…right where I’m sitting.

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Sunday out at the “Old Place.” Our oldest (in both friendship and age time) friends and a walk in the woods. It’s the first time Michele has seen the kids’ Minnesota land; Steven’s is the eastern 40, Scott’s the western part where the broken house is returning to the land.


The ever-amazing Helen Week, age 95, is the last of my folks’ generation. She still mows her lawn and bakes cakes. She’s who I want to be be when I grow up.




Oh oh…woke up this morning thinking about work and New Mexico and real life…In a good way. I’ve breathed in my Minnesota air, eaten sour cream raisin bars and walleye, hung out at ‘the old place,’ seen family and friends, driven lots of miles, and, did I mention all of my new shoes (Bender’s, Grand Rapids, great shoes). Refreshed and well-shod I can go home.

Here’s a big fat album of the trip up to the border, to be followed by another ‘old place’ and a picnic review.

In northern Minnesota, the leaves continue gilding; the air is pure and predictive of cold to come; and I have just returned from a sleepover in the north of the north. When I pay attention to my world there are always discoveries. For example.

Bliss is possible.

On the way back from Roseau yesterday, a drive of about 220 miles, I parked at a rest stop overlooking the Rainy River and the Canadian shore—so near and yet so Trump-free. It was a shady place of pine trees and contemplative fisherman on the shore, September temperatures and friendly breezes, no traffic on Highway 11…and me in no rush. I was happy. I fell asleep for a short while, and then, coming to in a trancelike state, I chose not to open my eyes or move a muscle for what seemed like a long time in paradise. No sounds, not a single twinge in my ageing body, not one disconcerting thought in my head. That may not sound like a big deal since it was only long moments not long hours..but trust me it was…a big deal…in the annals of otherworldly road-trip moments. Maybe you had to be there…

Starbucks’ protein/coffee drinks are indescribably gross. Gas station/pee stop. What to drink. I drive everywhere with a water bottle liberally flavored with instant coffee (which everyone but me finds disgusting) but sometimes one needs a gas station drink. They didn’t have the Starbucks road drink I like at the station where I stopped but they did have a whole shelf full of Starbucks Double Shot Protein Vanilla Bean drinks. The worst drink in the history of gas stations. I am a Starbucks fan, not many things better than a venti non-fat latte, but I must say my love was sorely tested by that protein thing. Never buy one.


Effie has a new mosquito. Effie, Minnesota had an impressive mosquito sculpture for many years—of course I took photos during my sojourn in the north in the 90s. At some point one was included on one of my blog posts. About two years ago a writer named Mark Rapacz emailed that he had come across the photo and, happening to need a mosquito photo for his new mystery novel, asked if he could use it. Of course I was thrilled—finally a published photographer!  He kindly sent me a copy of the book which I’ve proudly shown around. Yesterday’s jaunt took me through Effie once again—and the original mosquito is gone! Thank god it’s been replaced by its stingingly silly cousin.

More about family, friends and walleye coming up.



Ah yes, time for another round of sentimental musings about my old home. And many photos. For this round of visits, instead of waxing lyrical over mom’s apple pies and the cries of loons on the lakeshore, and rehashing which of my introverted traits can be attributed to north woods isolation, I’ll talk about our land.

My grandfather, Torgus Neset, purchased 160 acres of timber, swamp and small meadows sometime between 1910 and about 1925. Since he was an immigrant lumberjack with little education and no resources, I cannot imagine he paid very much for it. Some time before his death in 1948, Grandpa deeded the property over to his sons, Swan (my dad) and Ilif; Swan received the 80 acres pictured in this post—the Old Place (we now call it) where I grew up.

Our land is in the southwestern corner of Koochiching County which stretches north to the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. The county is comprised of forests of spruce, aspen, birch, and balsam; a multitude of small lakes; bogs and other wetlands; and some open farmland. Wildlife consists of deer, moose, black bear, beaver, muskrat, coyotes, wolves, bobcats, lynx, fisher, pine marten, red fox and other small creatures. The lakes are full of walleye, northern pike, blue gills, croppies; birds come in every size and color; people come mostly in the form of Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Ojibwa, and French, but a scattering of folks representing the rest of the world has also settled here from time to time. People make a living by logging, working at the International Falls paper mill, on small farms, and servicing a fairly healthy tourist market based on hunting, fishing, and just getting away from city life.

International Falls, Big Falls, Littlefork, and Northome are Koochiching’s urban areas, ranging from International Falls’ 6000+ residents down to Northome’s 200. When I was growing up, Northome, the closest town, had just over 300 people but we keep going away.

My mother and dad lived at my grandparents until dad and a couple of his buddies built our small stucco house at the end of the gravel road running north from state highway 71. Some years later a log and plaster addition was added. The REA (Rural Electrification Administration) finally brought electricity to our ‘neck of the woods’ in 1953 but plumbing was not to be—cold winter or mosquito-bitten summer butts were the norm until we moved, me in 1957 and Robert in 1963. Mom and dad had moved us all to Portland, Oregon in 1955 and they moved again to Florida in 1959 but those stays were relatively brief because my dad couldn’t adjust to a post-lumberjack city life. Mom and dad didn’t permanently leave home to be closer to me in New Mexico until the 80s and I eventually purchased the land from them.

The old homeplace has stood vacant since except for a summer in the mid-80s when I moved out there for a brief passage between lives. It was a great summer for Max, my wonder-dog border collie and me. I commuted to Bemidji State College for a class required for my Minnesota teaching license and some random writing classes; worked on a visa project for three international artists; took morning baths with water hauled from the pump and heated in a basin; lived on a diet of brown bread, olive oil and coffee; and read Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West late into the evening—one of the most engrossing and informative books I’ve ever read.

The barn, chicken house, tool shed and toilet have pretty much sunken into the ground, and the house is rapidly following suit. Oddly enough, I do not find it depressing in any measure. It feels like a much more natural process then being bulldozed down to make room for other houses and voices and cooking and pets. My parents are gone and Robert and I are deteriorating along with the house—and it’s somehow reassuring to me that we are doing our aging together. Soon enough my kids and their kids can decide what to do with the old place but I have a secret hope that one or the other of  my grandchildren will fall in love with this pretty bit of land at the end of a gravel road in Koochiching County, Minnesota.

I gave place to my sons ten or fifteen years ago, and now we go to visit when we can—the land, the memories, the woods, a totally quiet place…touching base. Robert and I went up on Monday for all of the above reasons.


Feeling sentimental this evening. Two afternoons spent with my high school classmates from The Class of 57. There are ten of us left from the original 21; eight of whom were present off and on at Judy and Ray Grundmeier’s woodsy haven just south of Northome. The weather’s was northern-fall perfection, the “hot dishes” and venison and rolls and salads and pies were delicious, and the talk was low key and affectionate of times past and present.I’ve only been to one class reunion and that was twenty years ago, so I really don’t know enough about what everyone’s done in the meantime to rewrite the Statler Brothers Class of 57 especially for us–although that would have been an interesting challenge.

Here are Ray (classmate) and Judy (Ray’s wife—class of 59) dancing to what has become Our Class Theme Song.

Tommy’s selling used cars, Nancy’s fixing hair
Harvey runs a grocery store and Margaret doesn’t care
Jerry drives a truck for Sears and Charlotte’s on the make
And Paul sells life insurance and part time real estate

Helen is a hostess, Frank works at the mill
Janet teaches grade school and prob’ly always will
Bob works for the city and Jack’s in lab research
And Peggy plays organ at the Presbyterian Church

And the class of ’57 had it’s dreams
Oh We all thought we’d change the world with our great works and deeds
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs
The class of ’57 had dreams

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware
Randy’s on an insane ward and Mary’s on welfare
Charlie took a job with Ford and Joe took Freddie’s wife
Charlotte took a millionaire and Freddie took his life

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt
Where Marvis finally wound up is anybody’s bet
Linda married Sonny, Brenda married me
And the class of all of us is just a part of history

And the class of ’57 had it’s dreams
But living life day to day is never like it seems
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen
But the class of ’57 had its dreams
Oh the class of ’57 had dreams

(Statler Brothers)

I don’t quite know how to feel about these last two days. I was so very nervous driving the 60+ miles to Northome—the feeling when you’re about to meet very important people on whom you wish to make a good impression. And I did wish to…  but wearing your favorite jeans and best black shirt won’t make you richer, smarter or hide any wrinkles. Damn.

Then I was there…and it was remarkably familiar and comfortable; not like I’d-just-seen-everyone comfortable—more like this is who I am and where I’m from and I wouldn’t want it otherwise.

This is melancholy I’m feeling isn’t it? For the bright and hopeful youngsters we were in 57…and the joy and drama of being teenagers together in a tiny town in the northwoods. While it wasn’t all fun and games, there are moments which it would be nice to relive. But we can’t…and here we are.

Thanks Ray and Judy. Lovely party.


Chapter Three

My Mom’s South Dakota

Granny Furiosa struggles to return to her [Minnesota—by way of South Dakota] homeland and escape the clutches of a ruthless [New Mexican] desert gang leader…  With the harsh desert sands [of Farmington] in front of them and marauders behind, only the maddest will prevail the storm. (IMDb/Mad Max: Fury Road)

That was Saturday morning. By Monday, our fearless heroine and her loyal steed, Ghost, were leaving Casper, Wyoming, bound for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A practically straight shot east of 500 or so miles through prairie and farmland. A cozy airbnb awaited in downtown Sioux Falls, then a day off with cousins.

My enthusiasm for the road had returned after a night of untroubled (by the possibility of Moab bedbugs) slumber between the crisp clean sheets of the La Quinta and that aforementioned little cheery yellow omelet.

I am almost as fond of South Dakota open spaces as of Wyoming even though it’s without that romantic cowboy presence. What it has going for it is my mother’s deep and abiding love of the place even though she was born in its farthest eastern reaches, only a few miles from the Minnesota border. South Dakota is the land of big presidential faces, a grand sculpted Indian warrior, of the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations which I just drove through, of a whole lot of bikers, and of the prosperous Sioux River Valley farm on which my mom grew up. Her dad died when mom was very young and her mother lost the farm during the depression but, as long as mom was alive, we always drove out to the country to see it whenever we visited the area.

South Dakota family: