Monthly Archives: May 2013
Minnesota: The parking area outside the window is filled with 4-wheelers, pickups and boats and trailers covered with tarps as it rained last night.
The pink girlie t-shirt at L & M pictures a curvy ‘babe’ holding a smoking rifle over a dead deer—captioned “I just dropped 50 pounds.”
It is all bright green and rainy gray. Good to stay in, better to be out. The smell is a blend of birch buds, baby balmies, damp decay of fallen tree trunks, earth reborn and rehydrated after its frozen slumber, cold cold water burbling in streams and ponds. It is a smell to draw deeply upon because it is only available in a northern spring.
All around it’s Minnesota-speak. And yes people do say ‘ya betcha,’ and chop off the end of each word rather abruptly…no melting away at word’s end like French.
It is all about the weather up here. And there is weather aplenty. This year it snowed into May. Now it rains and greens and grows; after while all will be all crisp and golden with a scarlet scattering of Canadian maples, rusting tamarack and the ever present spruce green of green spruce. Then snow again. Weather!
The Cemetery and the Old Place: Today Teresa and I went up north to the Forest Hill Cemetery and the old place. Me and the house. Same age. Further destruction on both counts. Doctor, dentist, L’Oreal and coffee keep me from cracking and crumbling at quite the same rate as the old house which—each year—just calmly rots and sinks a little further. No help cosmetically or structurally I’m afraid. I am sad—and not. The house is aging and dying like living things do. Not getting torn down and replaced by a new thing. Just going—slowly and quietly in the wind and wet.
Every year. Cemetery to check in with the folks. Teresa’s first visit to Great and Great Great Grandparents. It is an incredibly beautiful place which lies near a small stagnant swampy creek so its green gorgeousness is somewhat bothered by clouds and swarms and armies of mosquitoes. But we stay for a small visit and then it’s out Highway 71 to the old place.
Here it is. Home. Couldn’t wait to get away. Can’t wait to set foot back on this land every year. What a pleasure to tell Teresa my stories of this place. She says, “It must have been special to grow up here.” Yes actually it was.
The following two photos depict the final stages of the death of stuff. One summer about 20 years ago I lived here and took a cultural appreciation class for my Minnesota teaching license and several literature classes at Bemidji State University. The house had already been empty for awhile so the musty smell of wood rot and dampness pretty much permeated everything. My neighbor and I found some old paint in the garage and painted every wall whatever color was available. Hence the dark green and yellow and pink peels. Looked bad but smelled better. Mom’s old chore jacket has been hanging there in every photo taken in the last 10 years. I hope it will be the last thing to go.
AND NOW FOR THE LAND.
We traveled to Duluth today to walk along the shores of our magnificent Lake Superior and to study historic landmarks such as the Glensheen Mansion. There would be a little shopping and a quick lunch interspersed with these more serious considerations.
Unfortunately things did not work out as planned.
The following photo essay describes our misfortunes.
After stopping briefly at the Miller Hill Mall…well maybe not briefly—more like two hours I suppose—we drove down to the lake for lunch at the highly recommended Lake Avenue Restaurant and Bar. We knew immediately that it would be extremely rude to eat and run from such a fine place so we decided to discuss Duluth history over lunch to compensate for our lack of historical research so far. That did not work out well either because we know so little about that topic—Duluth history. So there we were with these unusual and incredibly delicious appetizers and quite lovely wine we had ordered.
We did have a stimulating conversation about the role of food in our lives but then, to make up for our so far frivolous behavior we walked across the street to investigate the history behind what was probably a historic structure across the street. However, at every turn it seems another obstacle to exploring this city’s past is placed in our path. A vintage clothing boutique named Fig Leaf is inconveniently located right at the entrance. Again, we are visitors here and really want to make a good impression so well…we were pretty much compelled to purchase something.
What a disaster. We are not one tiny bit more enlightened; instead we have less money and more pounds. Bad Marj. Bad Marsha. Bad Teresa.
I told Teresa that northern Minnesota is a very special place…with an abundance of wild animals. We are off to quite a good start in the five days since we arrived. We want to share the pictures.
This is a catch-up post; our story from just a few days ago. Sometimes—on the road or in the air—we’re travelers, sometimes explorers, sometimes we are simply tourists but, in the best of all possible worlds we are first and foremost students.
The Crazy Horse Monument and Mount Rushmore nicely meld the tourism/student functions. In a way they are oddly juxtaposed, the enormous romanticized face of the brave warrior and the smaller coterie of dead white men. In another way the two monuments represent a big swath of American history—the Indian and the cowboys. Visiting them reminded me again to always be a student.
CRAZY HORSE: The Indian is Crazy Horse, fearless and fierce on the racing stallion—emerging from his mountain. According to the guide as we bus to the foot of the mountain, this monument is higher taller bigger grander in every way than the cowboys down the road (actually only one of the presidents was a cowboy but they all acted like Roughriders when it came to the Indians).
It is a good idea to go to the Crazy Horse monument first so that the rightful order of things is established. First came the Indians, then the cowboys! Crazy Horse was an Oglala Lakota warrior who fought the U.S. government over control of his people’s lands—including defeating Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Crazy Horse was murdered by a military guard after peacefully surrendering to U.S. troops a year later.
The obsessive man who was probably the major reason this monument is being built at all should be acknowledged. Korczak Ziolkowski was a determined and talented orphan whose obsession with the Crazy Horse monument overrode everything else in this life—although he apparently had a satisfactory marriage with a still-living devoted wife and ten children, many of whom continue work on the monument. Ziolkowski was a rugged individualist of the first order from purchasing the land (which belongs to the Crazy Horse Foundation now) to working almost alone with inferior tools in the early years of monument-creating to insisting that no tax dollars ever be used on the monument.
The Crazy Horse monument might be considered an anti-establishment icon of the first order, built by an anti-government guy in honor of another anti-government guy.
Of course Mount Rushmore is quite the opposite–built for/by/about the federal government. The privately funded monument versus the federally funded Mount Rushmore. Mistrust of government versus utilization of government toward good ends! By good ends I mean funding and maintaining a magnificent park. However all of the four presidents included on the mountainside are implicated in stealing the very land (or all of the other lands owned by the Native Americans) on which the monument rests.
MOUNT RUSHMORE: Everything considered these U.S. Presidents probably did more good than harm overall. But are these even the right four? According to my not-very-learned take on Presidential greatness I can’t think of any who deserve the honor more—although whether any giant faces should be defacing the Black Hills is a matter of some controversy (see later article).
Washington definitely. The more biographies I read about him, the more I admire him. Yes, he did keep slaves (find me a continent or a race or a culture that hasn’t—not to say it’s right, just to say it’s unfortunately very common) and apparently he was not the world’s most skillful soldier but he was smart, steady, steadfast and knew how critical it would be to establish a ‘democratic’ form of government from the beginning—no trappings of royalty allowed. He also understood the importance of having a strong federal system. So yes to GW on the monument.
Jefferson? Jefferson probably. The original states’ righter. Exploration. Ever westward. Jefferson on the side of the common man/farmer/shopkeeper versus the patrician/wealthy/landowner. Jefferson was the first journalistic attack dog in the long string that has followed but he was also a serious intellectual and quite dashing in thought and deed. I have not read the serious biographies of him yet which await me on a shelf back home.
Lincoln also definitely. Whatever percentage of his quest was dedicated to freeing the slaves versus maintaining the Union, waging the Civil War was quite probably the most courageous act of American history. That he was also a wheeler dealer politician and looked like Daniel Day Lewis is okay too. Lincoln, like Washington, appears to fit the definition of ‘honorable leader’ by any standards.
Teddy Roosevelt, yes I guess so. I am a TR fan for the following reasons. He allowed his wild daughter Alice to be herself; he was a ‘good’ Republican, a fighter against corporate corruption; and he loved the west and wrote extensively about and on behalf of the environment. On the other hand I am not sure someone as war-loving or who spent as much time slaughtering wild animals around the world deserves to gaze forever over these peaceful hills. His park just north of here in North Dakota, is a beautiful mix of oddly shaped rock formations, woods and streams and has such a sense of the rough, powerful, loving and flawed man about it.
The following piece from the New York Times came up when I googled Crazy Horse and it expresses some of the unease we all feel over grandiose monuments, whether the people or incidents they honor deserve it and whether their placement is appropriate.
September 2, 2009/Editorial Observer Waiting for Crazy Horse by Lawrence Downes They dynamited Crazy Horse’s mountain again the other day, sending 4,400 tons of granite crashing onto a growing pile of Black Hills rubble. An eruption of dust ripped across the mountainside like a yanked zipper. There was a flash, then a boom that made a thousand people three-quarters of a mile away jump at once, then applaud.
It was one of the biggest blasts yet in a project that has seen a lot of them in 60 years, though afterward the mountain looked pretty much the same. The carving of this South Dakota peak into a mounted likeness of Crazy Horse, the great Sioux leader, has been going on since 1948. It’s a slow job. After all this time, only his face is complete. The rest — his broad chest and flowing hair, his outstretched arm, his horse — is still encased in stone. Someday, long after you are dead, it may finally emerge.
The memorial, outside Rapid City, is only a few miles from Mount Rushmore. Both are tributes to greatness. One is a federal monument and national icon, the other a solitary dream. A sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, worked at it alone for more than 30 years, roughing out the shape while acquiring a mighty beard and a large family. He died in 1982 and is buried in front of the mountain. His widow, Ruth, lives at the site and continues the mission with her many children.
I have to admit: Mount Rushmore bothers me. It was bad enough that white men drove the Sioux from hills they still hold sacred; did they have to carve faces all over them too? It’s easy to feel affection for Mount Rushmore’s strange grandeur, but only if you forget where it is and how it got there. To me, it’s too close to graffiti.
The Crazy Horse Memorial has some of the same problems: it is most definitely an unnatural landmark. Some of the Indians I met in South Dakota voiced their own misgivings, starting with the fact that it presumes to depict a proud man who was never captured in a photograph or drawn from life.
Kelly Looking Horse, a Sioux artist I talked with as he sewed a skin drum at Mount Rushmore, said there were probably better ways to help Indians than a big statue. He also grumbled that many of the crafts for sale at the memorial were made by South Americans and Navajos and sold to people who wouldn’t know the differences among Indian tribes, or care. Leatrice (Chick) Big Crow, who runs a Boys and Girls Club at the Pine Ridge Reservation, said she thought the memorial was one of those things that could go on swallowing money and effort forever.
But two other Sioux artists — Charlie Sitting Bull, a weaver of intricate beadwork, and Del Iron Cloud, a watercolorist — said they were grateful at least that the memorial gave them free space to show and sell their work. As for the loss of the Black Hills, Mr. Iron Cloud told me, without rancor, that there wasn’t much to be done about it now.
Looking up at the mountain in the golden light of late afternoon, it was hard not to be impressed, even moved, by this effort to honor the memory of a people this country once tried mightily to erase. I came away reminded that eternity is not on our side. The nearby South Dakota Badlands, made of soft and crumbling sediment and ash, will be gone in a geological instant.
The day may sooner come when most human works have worn away as well. When all is lost to rust and rot, what remains may be two enormous granite oddities in the Great Plains: Four men’s heads mysteriously huddled cheek to cheek — a forgotten album cover. And, far bigger, a full-formed Indian on a horse, his eyes ablaze, his long arm pointing out over his beloved Black Hills.
Best Friends from Childhood. Back to the Old Place. Then Grand Rapids to our favorite Super 8 so far. Now a week off from the road. Think. Write. Walk. Hang out with Teresa, Rob and Marsh. Shop in Duluth. Go back out to Old Place with a picnic. Sleep. Wash car.
Photo album from day.
Spring out at the ‘Old Place.’
My cousin Audrey and I have known each other since I was born quite a long time ago. Today was her 80th birthday party. It was a joyous and lively occasion taking up most of the day in its various celebratory stages. It all was a confirmation of what we know—family is wonderful in all its permutations and we are blessed to be part of one or more…
Once again I’m too tired to say anything profound about families or anything else so how about a couple of pictures of Clara, the Viking Princess (Audrey’s great granddaughter) whom I have been photographing for a few years now. There were many beautiful children and grandchildren at the party—Clara will represent them all.
12:57AM Thursday: Econolodge, Minot North Dakota. Little trouble getting out of Watford City ND…the epicenter of the North Dakota oil boom it is said. But with some tricky manuevering we got out of line, backtracked 40 miles or so, changed routes entirely and now only 3 hours late…WE ARE HERE.
There are many stories from the road but for now this must suffice as the tale of the day.
Goodnight from Teresa and Marjorie…on the trail NORTH.
8:50AM Leaving the Super 8 in Cheyenne, presently our favorite new town. It’s crisp and cold and sunny. We happily anticipate another day on the road. Wonder if happy anticipation will be with us all the way to Minnesota? Now we have some miles to go at the western edge of the Great Plains before we reach our Black Hills destination.
In The Great Plains Ian Frazier focuses on the Plains tribal history, the presence of Native Americans long before I started driving back and forth and seeing the ghosts of the people and ponies and buffalo, imagining how it must have been. I do love this country, geography at its emptiest, history at its richest.
California girl Teresa is astounded. There are more people in her LA neighborhood than all of Wyoming. She’s experiencing the sheer pleasure of driving these lonely roads…that sense of absolute freedom.
10:30AM We’ve driven…
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