On the Eve of the Winter Solstice

Yes, my blog this week is a day late. And there is one very important reason for that.

Yesterday, we had to say goodbye to our old friend Ruby. Ruby was our 14-year-old Irish terrier who spent her life in our house, watched our kids grow into amazing adults, stood by us when we each lost our fathers, welcomed our granddaughter, took our second dog Truffles under her wing, and paced the floor around 5:30 every morning in her old age.

It was a bittersweet day, as any pet owner will know. Ruby told us she was done by refusing to eat and drink over the weekend. She was tired. She had lived long enough.

And so we did what we needed to do: took her to our vet, whom she loved, and helped her leave us.

Ruby the Irish terrier

Ruby

Even though I had to get a box of Kleenex to keep in my office yesterday, today I am thinking about how Ruby made us better people by forcing us to slow down once in a while. She had a way of backing up to us wherever we were sitting so that we could pause and pet her. She was good at being insistent. Pay attention, she seemed to say.

Dogs are good at that.

As we move on to the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the New Year, taking a moment to pay attention to whatever is there in front of us might be a really nice idea. Turn off the news, put away the screens, and pause.

Happy Holidays, everyone. One Minnesota Writer will return in January 2017.

happy holidays from one minnesota writer

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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!

 

Duluth Called. I Answered.

Autumn in Minnesota can be a magical time, especially if you happen to be Up North. Specifically, near Lake Superior, one of the most magical places in Minnesota.  (To be fair, Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the Canadian province of Ontario all share in the charmed coastline. Lake Superior is a damn big lake.)

I was lucky enough to have a magical day last Wednesday with a road trip to the Duluth area, accompanied by my friend Luann. For those of you who don’t know Duluth, it is a small city of about 86,000 nestled around the Port of Duluth-Superior, a seaport that averages 38 million tons of cargo every year according to duluthport.com. The seaport is 2,342 miles from the Atlantic ocean and is the farthest inland freshwater seaport in North America. You get to see a lot of big boats in Duluth.

While it’s fun watching the boats and watching the lift bridge go up to allow those boats to move in and out of the harbor, that isn’t the main attraction for me. I love the largest of the Great Lakes as an endlessly changing body of water. Lake Superior has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in the world. It has moods. It can reflect sunlight so that you are nearly blinded or it can disappear into a stormy sky so well that the horizon is indistinguishable. When Luann and I arrived, the sun was shining, the water sparkled, the wind whipped our hair and nudged the water into nonstop waves.

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Lighthouses at the canal into the harbor at Duluth

The sound of Lake Superior is at once soothing and ominous. Its always-moving water is not something to be toyed with. It demands respect. It swallowed all 729 feet of the cargo ship SS Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 and keeps it to this day. There are thousands of boats that have sunk in Lake Superior; the Fitzgerald is perhaps the best-known, especially after Gordon Lightfoot sang about it.

The lake was not ominous on my latest visit. I stayed out of the maritime museum next to the harbor; I was not there to be reminded of tragedies. I was there to take in the beauty of such an enormous natural resource. Luann and I walked out to the lighthouse and back, then drove on the road that goes over the lift bridge all the way to Park Point. We both remarked on how much we liked the sound of the water.

Park Point has a sand dune restoration project in progress and the wind never stops blowing. Sand is everywhere; Luann had to dump her shoes out after 10 minutes of walking. But that same wind made us feel alive and refreshed even if we did get a tiny bit sand-blasted. We looked out across the part of Lake Superior where the land disappears and all that is visible is water and sky. Who needs the ocean when there’s this?

After Park Point, we headed north of Duluth, took the scenic road along the lake, then stopped at the waterfront in Two Harbors. We admired the fall foliage, found another lighthouse, walked along the rocks. The lake sang to us in choppy, splashy notes. There weren’t many people around since it was a weekday and school was in session. It was perfect.

On the rocks in Two Harbors

On the rocks in Two Harbors

The day slid away from us with amazing speed. Before we knew it, it was after 4 p.m. and I had to stop heading further north. We returned to Duluth for an early dinner at Fitger’s Brewhouse. After dinner, as we pulled into a gas station near the Spirit Mountain ski area, I saw the thinnest of crescent moons on the western horizon, lit perfectly by the setting sun. Darkness descended quickly. But the brightness of a day spent with a good friend and a big lake lasted well into the night. Back in the Twin Cities, 150 miles south of Duluth, I can still hear those waves.

Two Harbors waterfront

Two Harbors waterfront