Food for Thought and Thoughts on Food

The hint of fall was unmistakeable this past weekend. A chill permeated early morning and evening, yellow and rust-colored flowers bloomed in our garden, Saturday’s rain prompted me to buy firewood. And I thought about cooking.

I think about food a lot, where it comes from, how it’s prepared, how it varies across cultures, and how we share it. I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, slowly over the summer, digesting his stories about the origins of specific meals he prepared. And, now that fruits and vegetables are plentiful and gorgeous as they erupt from the garden, I’m constantly thinking about what to prepare and share.

Mick and I have done a lot of our shopping at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market this year. On Sunday, it beckoned again, the stalls filled with large colorful peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, corn, squash, herbs, potatoes, brussels sprouts. It took discipline to fill our bags only with what we needed. The bumpy squash and smooth red slicing tomatoes begged to be touched. Juicy melons sliced open to offer fragrant deeply-hued flesh tempted everyone who passed by.

We brought a list for a Sunday supper that we planned on sharing with friends, but our first purchase was a bunch of deep orange carrots that would be eaten later in the week. We purchased chicken from one farmer; corn, cucumbers, and a miniature melon from another; cilantro and mint from another; red onions from yet another. Folk music wafted around the market from a single vocalist/guitarist who set up behind a salsa table. I watched a young couple take their baby and his carseat off a stroller frame so they could squeeze an entire box of roma tomatoes into the cargo spot on the bottom, then put the baby and seat back on the frame. The baby was quiet and happy the entire time. We walked past an egg farmer who advertised vegetarian-fed chickens that were free-range; I wondered how a chicken that got to wander around where grubs and insects were free for the pecking is considered vegetarian. Perhaps I need to brush up on what free-range means. People strolled by with glorious bouquets of flowers – purples, yellows, reds – to grace tables at home. We noticed the donut vendors were nearly out of donuts by 10:00 a.m.

Once we had wandered through the entire market and our shopping was done, Mick and I headed out. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up what the farmers’ market didn’t have: yogurt, naan, ginger, sesame seeds, soy sauce.

Back at home, I relished being in the kitchen on an oddly cool August afternoon. To spend a few hours hanging out preparing food is one of my favorite things. The chicken thighs we bought were already packed and frozen for transport, so those went right into a water bath to thaw. While the chicken hung out in water, I made chutney in my food processor: cilantro and mint from the farmers market, lemon juice, fresh ginger, a jalapeño from our own garden, plain yogurt. The chutney would go with the naan that we planned on tossing onto the grill for a few minutes after the chicken was cooked.

I cut up a small watermelon. The cool red fruit would balance the heat from the marinade that I was planning for the chicken: yogurt, lemon juice, paprika, garlic, jalapeños, cumin, salt, ginger, coriander. Mid-afternoon, the thawed chicken thighs and marinade went into a gallon-size resealable bag and into the refrigerator. I thought about the woman from whom we bought the chicken. Like me, she was a middle-aged white woman. Not like me, she raised chickens, let them run in a pasture in the sunshine. She had calloused hands, gray hair, smile wrinkles around her eyes. I wondered what a life spent raising chickens would feel like.

Next came the salad prep. I washed, peeled, seeded, and sliced a couple of long narrow cucumbers and thought about the farmer who sold them. He made me think of a skinny Jerry Garcia and was delighted that I chose his cukes. He seemed to have been a small-scale farmer for a long time, from before it became popular with hipsters and foodies to buy fresh food at weekend farmers’ markets. Mick, who was standing behind me when I bought the cucumbers, could not walk away from that particular farm stand without buying some sweet corn from the other guy who was working there. He, too, had that old hippie happy-to-be-here demeanor; he beamed at everyone to whom he handed a bag of corn.

When I reached for the red onions that were going in the salad with the cucumbers, I thought about that farmer, too. She was a young Hmong woman whose family’s produce included many varieties of onions and peppers and herbs. I wondered if she actually tended those plants or if her parents and grandparents were the ones who worked the agrarian magic. She was quiet and kind as we completed our transaction. I finished slicing the red onions and tossed them together with the cucumbers. At dinner time, I would dress them with a mixture of rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh grated ginger, and black pepper, and then toss toasted sesame seeds into the salad.

 

 

 

At the beginning of the evening, our friends arrived for Sunday supper. We put the spice-infused chicken on the grill, cooked some basmati rice, cracked open a few beers. Outside in the waning light, we caught up with each other. Smoke rose from the grill and we could hear the occasional sizzle as the chicken cooked. When the food was ready and we gathered around the table, I kept thinking about all the people truly involved in this meal from the farmers and their helpers to the people who organize the farmers’ market to us, who planned and cooked this meal with what was available. And I felt so grateful that this is what my life looks like: healthy food, a table to hold it, and people with whom to share it.

After dinner, we had a fire outside. We sat around, roasted marshmallows, had a sip of whiskey. The warmth of the evening was not from the weather; it was the food, the fire, the whiskey, and the friendship. It was the perfect Sunday late-summer kind of night.

 

 

Late Summer Blues

This morning, there is a sharp little twitch of cool in the air. The grass is coated in cold dew, the garden looks as lush as it gets, and there is just a tinge of sadness at the way everything is maturing, ripening. The start of the school year looms – my granddaughter will begin kindergarten and my daughter will be a senior in college. I can’t quite believe it.

It really does all go too fast. Everyone who lives long enough gets this surprise that our elders talked about when we were kids, the same way they talked about the weather, and we all thought they were just making conversation: “Life goes by in a blink!” “It seems like yesterday the kids were little.” “We’re here for such a short time.”

I guess we all have aging and weather in common.

What put me in this mood? Part of it really is the waning summer weather this morning and part of it was going to the Bayfront Blues Fest in Duluth yesterday. Mick and I spent the day with old friends under the August sun listening to fabulous music that included Minnesota gospel artist Annie Mack and British blues legend John Mayall. This is the fourth year in a row we’ve gone with our friends to this festival on the shore of Lake Superior. I’ve started to recognize other repeat concert-goers. There is a guy who wears a Speedo-style pair of trunks on his aging body, his snake tattoo on full display as it writhes out of his trunks in both directions. There are the Deadheads with tie dye and goofy glasses. There are the blues fans who never sit down, but sway by the stage all afternoon. There is the guy who wears a shirt that says Boogie Cat on the back and dances a little like Elaine Benes in that old Seinfeld episode about how she can’t dance, only with more arm motion. There are the camp chair markers – what do you really call those? – on long poles to help people find their chairs after they’ve gone to get something to eat. We sat near the one of a blue saxophone player that I thought was a blue peanut M&M at first, and weren’t far from the chair marker that is a big bra on a pole. We’ve developed a rhythm for the day and have figured out that none of us would last for the whole three days of the festival. One day of sitting in a camp chair in full sun is enough. The smell of sunscreen was strong.

As I looked around the audience yesterday, there was a lot of gray hair. Very few attendees were young, although there were a few little kids who ran through the rows of chairs. Most of the people there could remember their first concerts in the 1970s (that would be me) or the 1960s. There is a certain maturity that goes with the blues. When one of the musicians in the acoustic tent remarked how he’s never seen a fight or violent act at the Blues Fest, I thought well, duh, everyone here is too old for that.

But what energy there was around the music. My generation and the one before mine clearly eschews any idea that we might outgrow our music or our outdoor concerts or our taste for a good beer under the August sky. I saw plenty of people dance with abandon. After John Mayall, who was the closing act, finished the last song of his set and the band walked off the stage, everyone in the audience including me clapped and hollered until they came back for an encore. This old British blues guy and all of us who loved him were not going to stop the music because of the end time printed on the festival program.

All that talk about life moving too fast be damned.

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Annie Mack opened the Bayfront Blues Fest on Sunday with a little gospel. My kind of church.

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John Mayall closed the Blues Fest in grand fashion.

The 2016 Summer Road Trip: Our Final Stop

I have a few favorite places in the United States that I return to whenever I have the chance.

The Badlands in South Dakota is one of those places. It’s linked to childhood road trips with my parents, when my dad never missed the opportunity to drive the loop. We always went in the summer, when there was car after car after car and it seemed like everyone with kids did a summer road trip. The Badlands was an early-morning stop on the way to Colorado over an October school break, when I was a single parent to my son Shawn and I wanted him to see this stark, other-worldly place. It was chilly then, the shadows sharp. The Badlands was a stop on the way home from my nephew’s Black Hills wedding the year before Mick and I got married. My father was still alive then and he seemed delighted to be there once more. The Badlands was the destination for a September girls-only trip I took with a friend when I had an entirely unexpected bout of depression about six years ago. There is nothing so head-clearing as hiking through the middle of the Badlands when most of the tourists have left for the season. Now, it is also forever linked to this year’s summer road trip with Mick.

We were lucky to have a reservation at Cedar Pass Lodge, inside Badlands National Park, for the last night of our 2016 road trip. When we arrived in the Badlands, it was 103 degrees. That was quite a warm welcome. It cooled off quickly as evening approached.

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Since we had only one night in the Badlands, we made the most of it. We ate dinner at the Cedar Pass Restaurant. I tried the Sioux Indian Taco, which was amazing. If you’ve never had frybread, you are missing a whole bunch of deliciousness. After dinner, we went to the campgrounds next door to the lodge to listen to a ranger talk about national parks in general and hear a night sky talk from a volunteer. There are so few lights in the Badlands that the view of the stars is unimpeded. The volunteer who gave the night sky talk set up enormous telescopes and everyone lined up to look at the moon, and then at Jupiter and its moons. The one trick thing about setting up the telescopes was that people automatically reached out to touch them while viewing the moon or planets. It was especially hard for the kids to keep their hands away. The volunteer had to reset the telescope every time someone touched it. That was one of the most patient volunteers I’ve ever seen.

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Mick looked through the telescope to see Jupiter’s moons.

The most interesting thing about the night sky talk was when the volunteer used a laser pointer to show us the different planets and stars. I still cannot get my head around how that worked, but work it did. During the evening, the International Space Station passed overhead, which caused a little excitement. We could not, however, see the Milky Way because the moon had not set; its light completely washed out the Milky Way. So, back at the cabin Mick and I set our alarm for 1:30 a.m. and got up to see the Milky Way after the moon had set. There we were in our pajamas in back of our cabin, looking up at a glorious wash of more stars than we could comprehend. I’d get up in the middle of the night for that anytime.

The next morning, we ate breakfast on the back porch. The resident swallow was a little upset with us. She chattered at us angrily until she finally decided we weren’t after her nest. We even moved our chairs over a little bit so we were not directly under it. Come to think of it, that move may have saved the last clean clothes we had with us.

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This swallow’s nest rested near the peak of the roof on our cabin at Cedar Pass Lodge.

We had only the morning to look around before we had to be on the road back to Minnesota. The wind was gusting hard, but at least it wasn’t over 100 degrees anymore. We did a speed tour of the loop through the park.

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And then it was time to go home. The 2016 road trip was officially drawing to a close.

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And it was good.

 

Happy August! The 2016 Road Trip Route Home

 

Once we admitted that we couldn’t stay at the Pacific Coast forever, we headed back to Minnesota. There was plenty to see along the way:

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Mount Hood, Oregon.

 

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Mount Adams, Oregon, way in the distance.

 

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Lampreys through the viewing window at Bonneville Lock & Dam, Oregon. 

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Wine, cheese, and music in Hood River, Oregon, which turned out to be one of our favorite places.

 

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Surfing the river in Missoula, Montana.

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A visit with my friend and fellow poet Constance Brewer in Gillette, Wyoming.

 

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We also met Connie’s corgis, Max and Merlin, and her partner, Scott.

 

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The touristy lobby decor of the Arbuckle Inn, Gillette, Wyoming.

We weren’t quite done, though. We had one more national park to visit before we landed back on our own doorstep. Next week: The Badlands.

Happy August, everyone! Hope your summer includes fun, travel, and happiness.

 

 

The 2016 Summer Road Trip: Oregon Coast

Tough as it was to leave Olympic National Park behind, our next leg of our road trip brought us to an enchanted place: the Oregon Coast. We only got a taste of this wildly beautiful area as we traveled from Astoria to Newport, but that was enough to know this is a place we will visit again and again if we get the chance.

Our first glimpse came from the Washington side of the 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge that spans the mouth of the Columbia River. When I first saw the bridge, the words that went through my head were, “Oh, holy Hell, I am not driving over that,” as if there was another option. Once I got on the bridge, I was okay until I got to the highest point. That was where road construction made me slow down. There is nothing like lingering on a bridge very high up in the air over water. Perhaps if I didn’t come from the Twin Cities, where the I-35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River at the end of rush hour a few years ago, I might have been less displeased with my route. The good news is that the delay was short and we got across the bridge to Astoria where we had a beautiful room at the Holiday Inn Express. Our view looked out at the bridge and the river, we had a fireplace in our room, and all was right with the world for a little while.

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In the morning, Mick and I headed toward Astoria’s piers to see where the sea lions gathered.

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I could have hung out with the sea lions all day, but we planned to stay in Newport next and needed to get on the road. Along the way, we made another Lewis and Clark history stop with a visit to Fort Clatsop just south of Astoria. We learned that Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-1806 there, where they traded and visited with the Clatsop and Chinook Indians. They also made salt for the trip home by boiling sea water. The Fort Clatsop site offers modern visitors a replica of the original fort.

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We didn’t spend a lot of time at the fort, though. In spite of its historical significance and lessons on how white explorers treated Native Americans and vice versa, it was the ocean that we wanted to spend time with.

And so we did.

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Newport was our last stop on the coast before we had to turn around and admit that we had to return to Minnesota sometime. But our lakes can’t quite compare with the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

The 2016 Summer Road Trip: The Pacific Northwest

How many people fall in love with Olympic National Park and the Pacific Northwest when they visit the area? Surely, it’s nearly everyone who goes there.

Olympic National Park was the destination that shaped our entire road trip for 2016. A massive park established in 1938 that encompasses the largest old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest, as well as mountains, glaciers, and coastal areas, Olympic has a little of everything. There are no roads through the middle of the park’s wilderness. The hiking trails we went on were well-marked and we stuck to the ones that did not require us to have a lot of survival skills. There are plenty of campsites, but we opted to stay at the Port Angeles Inn on the north side of the park for two nights, followed by two nights at the Kalaloch Lodge on the Pacific coast near the Hoh Rain Forest.

Port Angeles is a town of about 19,000 that provides a great base for Olympic National Park visitors. The Port Angeles Inn, where we had a room on the second floor, offers views of the harbor where ferries take people to and from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, which is just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The harbor area has a nice little park with some interesting public art. My favorite was the Rock-topus, shown in the slide show below.

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After dinner at Bella Italia, the Italian restaurant that gained fame as the place Edward took Bella on a date in Twilight, we slept well and woke ready for the trails the next morning. Port Angeles was having what they considered a heat wave with temps in the 70s and 80s, but up in the mountains that was not the case. It started out cool and wet, but got warmer and drier as the day went on. We took our time getting to Hurricane Ridge, with a little hike at Switchback Trail along with way. The Olympic Mountains are rugged and breathtaking, with deer, marmots, mountain goats, ground squirrels, and many many birds. Occasionally, there is a bear or a big cat, but we didn’t run into any.

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Though we could have gone right back to the mountains the next day, we knew there was so much more to see. So we left Port Angeles after our second night at the Inn, and headed to the coast and our room at Kalaloch Lodge. On the way, we hiked to Marymere Falls, which gave us our first taste of the rain forest.

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Along the trail to Marymere Falls

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Marymere Falls

After Marymere, we headed toward La Push and visited Rialto Beach and First Beach before heading toward Ruby Beach which was our last stop before Kalaloch Lodge. Rugged beaches with wild waves and logs pushed up on to the shore, these are not places for laying on a beach blanket. They’re more about respecting the power of the ocean.

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The final piece of our Olympic National Park adventure was still to come: the Hoh Rain Forest. An eerie sort of place with moss-draped everything, we felt like we were in a fairy tale as we hiked. We went slowly, stopping often to stare at the enormous old trees and listen to the birds. There are trees growing on top of old trees that have fallen; the old trees become what are called “nurse trees” as they provide nutrients to the young ones. I felt like if I stood still long enough, the forest would grow right over me. It wouldn’t take long.

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Four days in Olympic National Park felt like a speed tour. We could have hiked further, stayed longer, and loved every minute. But, perhaps it’s good to leave with a desire to come back someday.

 

 

Special Edition: From Zero to Dead in 103 Seconds

“Can we all get along?”
– Rodney King, Los Angeles riots of 1992

Last week was one hell of a week. We began with the Fourth of July, fireworks and cookouts and family and friends. I watched fireworks at Roseville’s Central Park with my husband, daughter, son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, our friends, my son’s friends. We sat next to a graduate student from Saudi Arabia who brought his three little kids to see the fireworks for the first time. He asked me what, specifically, the Fourth of July celebrated. While his little kids played with my granddaughter and her friend, I told him about the signing of the Declaration of Independence and asked him how his time in the United States was going.

“Good,” he said. “People have been very nice.”

I was relieved to hear that, given our current widespread fear and misunderstanding of people who appear Middle Eastern or Muslim. He and his family rented an apartment right near the park. He was a teacher and he would return to Saudi Arabia when he finished his graduate work at the University of Minnesota. Then the fireworks started and all of us had a great time. I thought about him on the way home, hoped that he would continue to have a good experience in this country, that no one would accuse him of being a terrorist because he is Middle Eastern. I hoped his kids would have friends here, that they could see the United States as a good place.

The next day, I was distracted by the big storm that blew through the Twin Cities, knocking down trees in my Roseville/Falcon Heights neighborhood and cutting power to hundreds of homes. A lot of first responders were out that night helping people when power lines came crashing down with the trees. I completely missed the news about Alton Sterling’s shooting outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. Instead, I focused on helping my neighbors when my power was restored before theirs. One neighbor stored food in my refrigerator. Another borrowed a cooler. A few people charged their cell phones at my house. And I thought, yeah, our neighborhood comes together nicely. We help each other out. I love this about us.

And then Philando Castile was fatally shot during a traffic stop gone horribly wrong.

On a warm summer evening in Falcon Heights, a four-year-old girl quietly witnessed her mother’s fiancé get shot by a police officer. When I saw the video Diamond Reynolds live-streamed immediately after the shooting, I was stunned. The sound of the police officer’s voice after he shot Castile struck me as panicked, frantic. The sound of the little girl’s voice near the end was heart-wrenching. What I saw showed no violence or resistance on Reynold’s part, yet she was handcuffed and put in the back of a squad car while her fiancé was dying. While her little girl watched.

As I watched, I realized my own husband had seen the flashing police lights on his way home from a very long day at work at the University of Minnesota; the St. Paul campus borders Larpenteur Avenue close to where Castile was pulled over. He had no idea what was going on; he drove down a different street when he saw Larpenteur blocked off.

Falcon Heights and Roseville border each other. Falcon Heights is home to the Minnesota State Fair and the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus. There are farm fields for the agriculture students, garden plots for the horticulture students. Gibbs Farm Museum is on the corner of Cleveland and Roselawn. Falcon Heights is a small community (pop. 5321) without its own police department. Like neighboring Lauderdale, they contract with the Village of St. Anthony for police service. The site of Castile’s shooting is at Larpenteur and Fry, about a mile from my house. A St. Anthony cop pulled over Castile.

Philando Castile, a black man, apparently resembled one of the suspects wanted for recent armed robbery. I listened to the audio from when the officer first called in about Castile. He said Castile had a wide-set nose like one of the suspects. He said he couldn’t see the passenger well enough to know if they also resembled a suspect. He made no mention of the child in the back seat.

It was 103 seconds from the end of that audio until Diamond Reynolds live-streamed her fiancé’s last moments¹. The audio for the scanner report of the shots fired included the panicked voice of the officer who fired the shots. The scanner audio from the fire/EMS dispatch began with a mechanical voice that reminded me of the weather service television channel before it switched to real people sharing information about Castile’s wounds. “Gunshot wound through the left side of the chest,” said one responder².

Diamond Reynolds’ repeated herself on her live-streamed video. “Please don’t tell me that he’s gone.”

But he was.

Her daughter said, “It’s okay, I’m right here with you.”

But it isn’t okay. In the week since the shooting of both Castile and Sterling, the Twin Cities has erupted with protests. The street in front of the governor’s mansion had to be closed off because so many protestors came and stayed. Protestors shut down I-94 on Saturday night. Frustrations boiled over. Violence ensued. Cops had to use smoke bombs and tear gas to clear the freeway. Cops got hurt. Protestors went to jail.

We are luckier than Dallas; at least no one is assassinating Twin Cities officers for revenge. Revenge killing expands this mess into all-out war. Is that what we want? I agree with what Black Lives Matter has said more than once over the past week.

Members of Black Lives Matter have stated they do not condone violence. They have pleaded with protestors to demonstrate peacefully; violence harms what they are trying to accomplish.

The Minnesota Lynx women’s basketball team tried their own approach. They wore warm-up jerseys for their game on Saturday that supported Black Lives Matter and honored Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, as well as the fallen Dallas police officers. They issued a statement supporting change in racial relations between police and black Americans.  But, somehow, this caused four off-duty police officers who moonlighted as Lynx security to quit. Why would these off-duty cops quit? The Lynx did a good thing.³

On Sunday, I went to a free community gathering in St. Paul designed to promote peace and healing. Isaac Peterson, of the 10-K Kollective pulled together local musicians including Desdamona, Doomtree, Ipso Facto, and others. Dafina Doty, Diamond Reynolds’ mother, took the stage, thanked everyone for being there, and said of Philando Castile, “…I believe in my heart he’s rejoicing because in his life he made a difference, but in his death he will make a change.” After she spoke, Ipso Facto played John Lennon’s song Blackbird. I stood there wishing that more people had come to this gathering and that Dafina Doty’s words might be true.

But all this is overwhelmingly sad. Why are we such a cruel and fearful species? There is much good out there, but it gets overshadowed and beaten down by violent actions that suck all the air out of the room. Remember all those lessons most of us were taught in childhood about kindness? We heard it over and over in whatever church/temple/mosque we may have attended, around the dinner table, at school: be kind to others. Treat others as you would like to be treated. What you do in the world comes back to you.

And yet, here we are arguing about whether police pull over black American men while they are driving more than others (there is all kinds of data that says this is true), whether guns are necessary in the hands of citizens, whether we have a right to carry an object that can kill another person so quickly and easily while we can’t drive a car without wearing a seatbelt, whether police could do an already difficult job better, whether there is any justification good enough to explain a traffic stop than ends with a 32-year-old gainfully employed and well-liked man dead while a four-year-old child witnesses horror that will shape her entire life. In what way are we treating others as we would like to be treated?

I wonder if that Saudi Arabian grad student I met at the Fourth of July fireworks has changed his opinion of us all during this time. What does he tell his children about this country’s treatment of people this week?

President Obama recently said, “ We’ll have to see each other as equal parts of the American family.” But it’s complicated. The racial divide in America is entangled in so many issues: education, economics, fear, and opportunity. I don’t believe for one minute that we are truly a land of equal opportunity for all. Hard work goes a long way, but our access to opportunity is shaped from the moment we are born. I was born into a lower-middle class white family. That has shaped my entire life, allowed me to glide along without losing hope for myself when I’ve hit bumps in employment or housing. I’m not profiled. I’m not looked at with suspicion as far as I know. I live where we seldom hear gunshots.

But now we have heard them. Four of them. The ones that killed Philando Castile.

What are we going to do about it? Because quietly waiting for this to blow over is not good enough.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

 


¹”Audio: He looks like ‘our suspect’” by Andy Mannix, Minneapolis Star Tribune front page for Tuesday, July 12, 2016.

²The audio for all three scanners is available at http://www.startribune.com/police-audio-officer-stopped-philando-castile-on-robbery-suspicion/386344001/#1

³See http://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-police-chief-criticizes-officers-for-walking-off-job-at-lynx-game/386506061/

The 2016 Summer Road Trip: A Long Drive Across the West

It rained the day we left Medora, North Dakota and headed toward the state of Washington. My husband Mick and I gave ourselves two days to cross Montana, Idaho, and Washington to reach our destination of Port Angeles, on the edge of Olympic National Park. The first few hours were soggy, but we had coffee and my iTunes library connected to the car stereo.

The first rest area we stopped in was at Wibaux, Montanta, where I wanted to get a state road map. I like state maps, with their little symbols and folds and the details that are left out of a larger atlas. I like the people in the welcome centers who, full of state pride, ask if we would like to sign their guest register. We signed the one at Wibaux, and noticed two young men talking to the older woman working there.

Mick nudged me. “Hey, those are the two guys who sat near the door of the pub in Medora last night.”

I looked at them. Yes, yes they were. And they were from Minnesota, too, as we discovered by their entry in the visitor log. We chatted for a minute – they were heading to Billings that day and we were heading to Butte – and then we got in our respective cars and sped off.

Damned if we didn’t see them at the next rest stop we pulled into. I can’t remember where that was, but it was still raining. We wondered if we would bump into them again before Billings.

We didn’t. Our next stop was at a place called Pompeys Pillar National Monument, part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, in Worden, Montana, just a bit east of Billings. The Lewis and Clark expedition stopped here in 1806 on their way down the Yellowstone River, and William Clark’s signature is etched into the stone pillar there. The signature has been preserved under glass. The name Pompey comes from nickname Clark gave to Sacagawea’s son, who accompanied her on the expedition.

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When we arrived in Butte, our overnight stopping point for this segment of our road trip, we visited the Butte Brewing Company first. After a blonde ale for me and a flight of assorted beers for Mick, we took a look at the Berkeley Pit. The Berkeley Pit is an example of a former open pit copper mine that was run first by Anaconda Copper, and later by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), and closed in 1982. The pit, a 1700+-foot deep hole, has filled with water now that the underground pumps are turned off. The water is full of heavy metals and chemicals, and has a pH of 2.5 (acidic), which means it’s not so great for living things. It is being monitored as the water level rises. Clean-up efforts are ongoing.

I enjoyed the brewery a lot more than the open pit mine.

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The next day’s leg took us through the rest of Montana, Idaho, and into Washington. It was our longest day of driving so far as we covered over 600 miles. The best part of this drive was coming upon the Columbia River. The area is breathtaking.

Columbia River Gorge

Our first view of the Columbia River at Vantage, Washington. It was a welcome sight after the drive through dry eastern Washington.

We held onto that image later when we hit the Seattle-Tacoma area at rush hour and sat in traffic for a long time. Our goal was to get to Lacey for the night before heading to the Olympic National Park area. Once we got to our hotel, we asked the desk clerk for a place to walk to for dinner; we were so done being in the car. He laughed with us and directed us to an Irish pub. Perfect.

We recovered enough the next day to take a detour through Washington’s capital, Olympia. What a beautiful city! The climate is perfect for all kinds of flowers and trees, which made the area around the Capitol into one glorious garden. It was our last major stop before heading north to Port Angeles, where we would stay for our first forays into Olympic National Park.

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We were excited to be on our way to the park that shaped the length of our entire road trip.

What next? Mountains! Ocean! See you next week.

Have a Happy and Safe July 4

One Minnesota Writer is taking a break today to be with family and friends, grill food, watch fireworks, and express gratitude to live in a place where this is even possible.

Happy July 4 to my U.S. readers. We are lucky. We need to remember that more often. Less acrimony. More neighborliness.


For your summer reading pleasure, the new issue of Gyroscope Review is now available. If you’re reading on a laptop or desktop computer, use this link: https://joom.ag/toRQ

If you’re reading on a tablet or cell phone, use this link: http://www.gyroscopereview.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ISSUE-16-3-SUMMER-2016.pdf

And remember that a subscription through Joomag is free. We want everyone to be able to enjoy good poetry every day.

Happy summer reading!

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The 2016 Summer Road Trip:Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, the first stop on our summer road trip, offers visitors a South Unit, a North Unit, and an Elkhorn Ranch Unit, which was the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch. We drove to the North Unit on our second day in the area, after enjoying a homestyle breakfast at Medora’s Cowboy Cafe.

The North Unit is 68 miles away from the South Unit and in a different time zone, which I found amusing (the South Unit is on Mountain Time; the North Unit is on Central Time). It is greener than the South Unit and lacks the multitudes of prairie dogs. But they do have buffalo.

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Our entrance into the North Unit was slowed a bit by rain and the buffalo hanging around in the road.

We stopped at the visitor’s center, which is simply a trailer with restrooms and a video to acquaint visitors with the park, along with rangers on hand to chat. We talked with a ranger who has been there for 40 years and clearly loves this place and loves talking about it. He admonished us to always ask rangers what’s missing from a park’s ecosystem and then launched into a story about how the bison have no natural predators left in the area. He spoke about a bison cow that had to be shot once she became too old and ill to even fend off flies (her tail was partly missing), and the other bison would have nothing to do with her. The ranger was adamant that she would not have suffered so much had there been a natural predator to take her down once she began failing. We realized that this is a piece of park management that we never think about. And that ranger knew we never thought about it! I admired his passion for the animals and the balance of nature in the area.

After our lesson on bison and predators, we headed out to the 14-mile drive into the North Unit. This road wasn’t a loop, like in the South Unit; we would have to turn around at the end and come back the same way.

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We were fascinated by the rock formations.

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I don’t know what kind of bird this is, but he seemed to be singing his heart out.

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This little lark also sang furiously.

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The stone shelter was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This is the River Bend Overlook and that’s the Little Missouri River on the left of the picture.

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We put that stone shelter to good use.

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At the Oxbow Overlook, a fellow traveler offered to take our picture. We were a little damp at that point.

Once we came to the end of the drive and turned around, the rain let up but the clouds remained. Nevertheless, we could see the beauty of this place and were glad we had a chance to visit.

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We headed back toward the South Unit over this bridge. There are grasslands between the two units with plenty of places for camping and hiking, including part of the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail.

Once we got back to Medora, we headed to the Little Missouri Saloon for dinner and to honor our last night in Medora. This happened to be on Memorial Day, and we were amused to learn that all their beer taps were dry after the holiday weekend, which included the Dakota Cowboy Poets event, and the beer truck wasn’t coming to refill things until Tuesday or Wednesday. They did have bottle beer, including Grain Belt from our own home town, so we were happy. And their burgers were fantastic.

Would I go back to Medora and revisit Theodore Roosevelt National Park? You bet.