Our Soggy Autumn and Finding Hope

It’s been a gray several days until today; many inches of rain in the rain gauge, although we are lucky at our house. Last Wednesday, over seven inches of rain fell just to the north of us in a few hours. I drove home from the Edina library in that storm, muttering to myself, “Please don’t hail,” since I just got my car back from the body shop for hail damage repair. Lightning flickered constantly, like a bad light bulb, and Highway 100 had at least two spots where pooled water could have quickly turned dangerous. But I made it home, completely soaked from my 30-second dash to the car after the reading I attended, and felt grateful. To the south of us, floods are displacing many as rivers rise, spill over banks, meander into small towns and over highways. All this wetness feels like spring.

Yet here we are at the start of autumn. The birds are constantly emptying the bird feeders in our yard. The fruit on our crabapple tree has turned orange-red, its smaller crabapples irresistible to robins and migrating cedar waxwings. The waxwings have arrived right on schedule to gorge themselves in preparation for their long flight. The robins have been here all along, but they, too, must be getting ready to go. Our tree is a noisy, lofty restaurant. Sometimes, I watch this scene from our bedroom window just after I’ve opened the curtains and am entranced.

Through our kitchen window, there is a perfect view of our neighbor’s old apple tree which has been dead for years. He never cut it down, just trimmed the bulk of the top away. Its trunk and a few sturdy limbs remain. The dead tree has become a woodpecker neighborhood, with several perfectly round holes in desirable areas. The resident woodpeckers sometimes stop at our deck, check out the cedar planks, make our dogs lose their minds. They aren’t the only life to move to the dead tree. I recently noticed the lichen that has made patterns all over the old bark, as if a painter took a pallet knife and slathered on goops of oil paint that will not dry for years.

Soon the juncos will come through, too, on their migration. They are my favorites with their dark eyes and round white bellies. I love watching them hop around on the ground, their movements quick, lively.

When did I become this person who knows the seasons by the birds in the yard? Not that I mind. It’s far more soothing than this election season with its flood of campaign ads, far less bitter and polarizing than a candidates’ debate. Even though I was disappointed in my neighbor’s refusal to remove the dead tree, that is so minor compared to all the arguing over immigration, policing, race, religious differences, taxes, and rights. The thing about my neighbor’s tree is that it has had time to become a home for other creatures. Its demise is to the benefit of the woodpeckers and lichen and perhaps something else I haven’t noticed yet. I keep thinking there’s a lesson there. I keep wanting to draw a peaceful analogy, but am not sure there is one that would be of use in getting people to stop shouting.

Maybe the sun that has broken through today will relieve some of the floods to the south. Maybe we’ll see something that will lift our hearts a little before tonight’s debate between Clinton and Trump makes us feel like we’re drowning in reactionary verbosity. Maybe this soft light of autumn is good at illuminating hope.

Let’s leave the curtains open for that.

 

All photos by kcmickelson 2016.

Poetry and Art Goings-On

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Over the summer, I edited a poetry book for my friend Oonah Joslin. Oonah is a poet in Morpeth, Northumberland. Her first book, Three Pounds of Cells, is due out this fall from The Linnet’s Wings Press. The 45 poems in this collection are a delightful exploration of how we perceive our world, a search for the source of the light and the music. The poems touch on Oonah’s childhood, travels, faith, love, loss, and her life-long affair with the sea. They sparkle with shifting colors, move to their own beat. The book will be available directly from The Linnet’s Wings within the next few weeks.

And, for any readers in the north of England, Oonah will have a book launch for Three Pounds of Cells in Morpeth on October 18 at the Sour Grapes Wine Bar at 7:30 p.m., and another in Newcastle on November 17 at STANZA, details TBA.  I’m really excited about the November event because I’ll be there to support Oonah’s work. I can’t wait to hear her read and to hang out with her for a few days beforehand.

 

 

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In other news, I have a new poem in the fall 2016 poets’ chapbook from The Linnet’s Wings, There’s Magic in the Pictures. My work appears alongside such wonderful poets as Bill West, Pippa Little, RK Biswass, Jeff Jeppesen, AJ Huffman, and many others. There’s Magic in the Pictures is available now from The Linnet’s Wings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-36-41-pmMany of you know that I’m an editor at Gyroscope Review, a quarterly digital poetry journal. Our fall issue is scheduled to release October 1. Information and links will be available at our website, www.gyroscopereview.com. This issue will include work submitted for our first themed call for submissions, which was on the broader meaning of honor.

Speaking of Gyroscope Review, my co-editor there, Constance Brewer, has three poems of her own that recently appeared in the Tipton Journal #31. Her thoughtful and smart poems are worth a look.

 

 

 

 

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And, finally, something not poetry-related: for those of you in the Minneapolis area, the Minneapolis art gang Rogue Citizen has an opening this Thursday from 6-10 p.m. at Pop-Out Gallery, 2014 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis. Get ready for a massive amount of new work that will made your eyes pop out in an awesome kind of way. Oh, and you’ll get to meet my son, the artist Dalsen. Yeah, I’m kind of proud.

 

 

 

 

Enjoy these busy fall days!

Urban Wildlife and Paying Attention

On Saturday morning, Mick and I worked in the garden. We cut back the massive squash vines, harvested tomatoes, dug out the spent basil, picked a few peppers, cut the grass. Squirrels and rabbits have been rampant this year, and they’ve often helped themselves to whatever food we are growing before we can get to it. This year, we are also growing some decorative gourds and the squirrels love them. We found half-eaten gourds all over the yard. Mick noticed one squirrel with its head in a gourd much like a little kid eating a big watermelon.

We decided that we weren’t going to try to save the gourds. The squirrels seem to prefer them over the other things in the garden, so maybe that isn’t so terrible. Maybe that will allow us to harvest the butternut squash and tomatoes with less competition. And we all have to eat, man and squirrel and rabbit.

In the afternoon, a hawk perched on our recently pruned lilac. We both watched to see if he would swoop into the squash patch to snatch up some small creature. He sat for quite a few minutes, tilting and turning his head in all directions, long enough for me to take his picture. Then he flew low over the yard, veered around our birch trees, and was gone.

I often see hawks around near the tall grasses along the freeways, notice them sitting atop light poles, their shapes distinct against the sky. They seldom stop in our yard where there are people and dogs and lawnmowers and wind chimes and less room to maneuver. When they do visit, we feel lucky and somehow honored. Their focus on what is around them reminds me that paying attention is a gift to be used well.

Happy Monday. May you notice and honor what is right in front of you today.

 

 

State Fair Days

Before summer looks for its suitcase and packs up to leave for the other side of the earth, and before all the kids in Minnesota are back to fidgeting in classrooms, there is the Minnesota State Fair. Twelve days of deep-fried food on sticks, plastic cups of beer, vendors who hawk ShamWow towels and magnetic bracelets and dubious foot-soaking solutions and one-0f-a-kind neck scarves and patio furniture made from recycled plastic milk jugs, dog shows, animal barns with horses and cows and pigs and sheep and llamas, new tractors and trailers and RVs and outdoor fireplaces, seed art in the likenesses of famous people (especially, this year, Prince), local bands, Grandstand shows with not-local bands, daily fireworks. It can be expensive. It can be too hot, too greasy, too crowded. Or, it can be a glorious mingling of people who just want to have fun.

Whatever you might think of it, it clearly marks the end of summer’s more relaxed days.

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Not bad to be greeted by a little music upon arrival around 8:30 in the morning.

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The Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater from Minneapolis put on a little show.

Cows, cows, cows.

 

No seed shall go to waste, nor shall Prince be forgotten.

 

Llama, llama!

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A fine day at the Fair.

And may all of you have a fine Labor Day. Onward to fall!

 

August Blooms, Garden Zen

At the end of August in Minnesota, our garden is bursting with color. That we have this sanctuary in the midst of an urban area never fails to make me grateful. Gardens are full of little miracles. Enjoy today’s slideshow.

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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.