My Very Own Personal Minnesota (Photos and miscellaneous comments in some sort of order at the end.)
Home is…where you were born? Where you live now? Where you lived the longest? Where you were happiest? On my journeys when people ask ‘‘where do you live?’ I say New Mexico. When asked ‘Where’s home?’I say Minnesota. And always, when I cross that Minnesota state line, I know that is true and I am back home.
There are many Minnesotas however. The culturally rich, sophisticated and arts-loving Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul; in the south Rochester and the world-famous Mayo Clinic where the famous come to live or die; the soybean, corn and sugar beet farms in south, central and northwestern Minnesota—home to the Jolly Green Giant and many of the beautiful blondes in my extended family.
And then there’s the land of birch and spruce and tamarack and lakes and mines and walleye and deer and bear and hunters and fishermen. My Minnesota. (Even though my dad disliked hunting and fishing intensely, preferring rambles through the stands of fir and popple on our land or cutting down the trees where his logging jobs took him. It still seemed in those days that the forests would never end.)
Much of the other Minnesota can be classified as the eastern edge of the Great Plains so my journey through that world doesn’t really end until I cross over some imaginary line between Roseau and Red Lake. My Minnesota starts where the plains leave off because, although still flat, the profusion of lakes and trees leaves little doubt that the prairie of grazing herds and wilting corn has been left behind. My Minnesota lies roughly between Bemidji (Paul Bunyan land), Red Lake (home to the Red Lake band of the Chippewa nation), International Falls (“Icebox of the nation”), and Grand Rapids or even further through the mining towns and almost-mountains to the shores of Lake Superior (although none of us ever went that far when I was a kid).
This territory is just a little wilder, a little grittier, like any frontier where the footloose and mildly criminal and those with dreams of a fast buck congregate. Tall tales from the weeks in isolated lumber camps filled the air already redolent with bad whiskey fumes, and finding frozen bodies behind the saloons, which still outnumbered the churches, was not uncommon. Those times were largely over when I was a kid but their essence lingered.
In fact…In 2005, the Grand Rapids Herald-Review published this tidbit in a section called A Century of Memories: Jan. 3, 1945—Mrs. Swan Neset of Nore Township was seriously injured when struck by a load of fine shot fired by her neighbor, Gus Senkapiel, who thought he was shooting at a strange dog which he believed was attempting to attack his flock of sheep.
Since mom was walking with our quiet shepherd, Pal, and carrying a lantern we always attributed the accident to the fact that Gus had hated us ever since Dad nailed boards in a V (for Victory) on the garage door (which faced Gus’ farm) and painted them a glaring white. Gus was a German immigrant and Dad, a Norwegian immigrant, didn’t take kindly to the news from Europe.
I fiercely defended the wooded wildness of my youthful stomping grounds against all references by my mother to the more settled civilized lands of the Sioux River Valley in eastern South Dakota (her birthplace) or the Red River Valley of Crookston Minnesota where she worked as a young woman. That is…until the day I graduated high school and left as rapidly as possible for Minneapolis and city life.
On Thursday this week I crossed over from the Great Plains on Chippewa land and stopped by my home disintegrating quietly at the end of a road through the woods before going on to my brother’s in Grand Rapids. My family still owns the land so I can visit at will and I do as often as possible. My collage of memories is bright and clear. The reality isn’t sad. It’s history and it’s home.
Happiness is a sign on a back country road.
One of the beautiful blondes of the northwestern prairies.
One of the other beautiful blondes.
As kids we were awed by this lake ‘you couldn’t see across’–just like the ocean we said.
Right three miles to home.
Without family smells, sights, sounds, touches to nurture you just quietly disintegrate.
My room, guarded against all intruders…like my brother.
The tree is my age. Looks older than me I think. But more interesting.
At the end of the afternoon. Or the drive. Or the walk. Or the life.