To the Minnesota State Fair and “Up North”

On August 26, I got up seriously early, and was in my native Minnsota by 9:10. Hopped on train to downtown Minneapolis, riding it to Target Field, the new home of the baseball Twins (we saw a game two months earlier).

The former Butler Brothers warehouse (1908), Minneapolis, a wonderful example of then-modern commercial architecture

Farmers\’ Market, Nicollet Mall, downtown Minneapolis

Ambled around downtown a bit more, then zipped back to the airport to pick up a rental car, zooming south to lunch with pal and accountant Mark Miller, one of the funniest people we know. He did not disappoint that day, riffing on fireworks and explosives. As we munched, he told some hilarious stories about attending his mother’s family reunions as a child (alcohol and dynamite are a bad combination), and a more recent tale about helping an older friend use up a couple of grenades from the Korean War. My stomach hurt from the laughter.

I zipped across town to friend Chuck Wiser’s townhouse, connecting for an hour of work with a client, then motoring south a mile at five to meet Bud and Ginny Jensen, a couple of my favorite teachers (I like, and deeply respect, almost every one I’ve ever met). Bud, as you may recall, was my 12th grade English teacher, and we’ve been friends for more than four decades. We had a lovely visit, with Grain Belt Beer and crostini – Ginny taught Latin all her life, and knows something about Italian food. The yak covered a lot of ground, including a great exchange of book titles. It was a perfect afternoon, cool, dry, and breezy, and it was a joy to be on their patio.

I was worn out. Chuck had dinner plans, and the big lunch with Mark was still rumbling around my stomach (also down there were laughs about blowing things up!), so I drove a mile to the Dairy Queen for an enormous chocolate malt. Chuck got home just before dark, and we got caught up; I had spoken with a few months earlier, but had not seen him for two years. I was plumb wore out, and was asleep by 9:30.

I did not sleep well, I think because of State Fair excitement, so I rose at 5, and was on the fairgrounds a minute after the gates opened, at 6:01. At that hour, the happening places were the animal barns, and I spent a happy two hours wandering past cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and birds. Calves suckled contentedly, 4-H kids trimmed their animals with clippers, draft horses clip-clopped on Judson Street. Around the corner I saw the “cow wash,” at least 20 stalls were kids were hosing down and soaping cattle. I had a short T-t-S moment with a 4-H mom from Pipestone in southwestern Minnesota.

Cow Wash, Minnesota State Fair

Each year when I visit with the critters, I give thanks to God for the gift of domestication. This year, stroking the chin of a Columbia ewe, I added a prayer of supplication for better treatment of them. It’s not enough to point the finger at farmers and processors. We who consume them also share responsibility. I’d like them to be given more space and more fresh air. Will food cost more? Yes. Would that mean people might have to eat less of it? Yes, and about one-third of us would be healthier with less.

The recently painted Horticulture Building

I walked a mile northeast, pausing to admire these words on a plaque affixed to the 4-H dormitory building, built by Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration in 1939: “A permanent structure created by otherwise idle hands . . .” At 8:40, I landed on a bench in front of the Fine Arts Building, 20 minutes before the art show opened. Struck up a conversation with Marsha, a retired special-ed teacher, thanking her for her service. We visited across a number of topics, and at nine stepped into the show. As happens each year, my mission was to buy a piece of work. The iPhone captured three images and sent them speedily to Linda. We agreed on a watercolor, “At the Lake,” by Mary Holmberg from Annandale, Minnesota. Done.

I ambled south, following the long-established route through the Creative Activities building, pausing to admire quilts, pickles, and other crafts and avocations, then (pausing for a very early beer) to the Horticulture Building to take a quick look at blue-ribbon vegetables, flowers, and such. It was just after eleven, but I had checked off my must-sees, and “Up North” beckoned.

As I did in 2008, I pointed the rental car north, toward to cabin of longtime pal Tim McGlynn, on Big Trout Lake in Crow Wing County (the very place names pull us poleward!). Getting on the road before mid-afternoon also meant less traffic – lots of people head Up North for the weekend. I had time, so I took a slower route, up U.S. Highway 169. Stopped at Milaca for a second giant Dairy Queen chocolate malt, and a fish sandwich. Twenty miles north, comes into view the huge Lake Mille Lacs, second largest in a state filled with big lakes. I smiled as I looked at the blue expanse, recalling my Dad’s fondness for Mille Lacs, which then and now offers good fishing close (about 100 miles) to the Twin Cities. Back in the 1950s, there was no enormous Indian-owned casino on its shore, and as much as I dislike gaming I do like the money that flows to the Anishinabe (Ojibwe) people, whose land and ways were taken with little or no compensation and no respect.

I turned west and north on state and county roads, and by 2:30 was hugging Tim and his partner Sue Cullen. Tim and I had a good yak for a couple of hours. He has long been a bright and probing person, exceedingly well informed and, like me, full of opinion. And what a place to pontificate: on a screened porch overlooking Big Trout Lake, gazing through tall pines. It was so good to be there.

At five, some more weekend visitors arrived, and we soon hopped onto Tim’s swell boat, zooming a couple of miles south to Bill and Sally Terry’s cabin, where a party was in full swing. Tons of fun, dinner, and a chance to listen to some new music – one of the revelers, Randy Ficke from Northern Kentucky was about our age, but totally current on rock and roll, country, and other genres. We headed down to the dock, stepped into Tim’s boat, and spent 90 minutes rocking out. I especially admired Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and when I got home I bought a couple of her tunes and downloaded them to my PC and iPhone. Head hit pillow late – for me at least. That night, the pillow was on the comfy bed in Tim’s large motorhome, which is his dwelling for many nights in the winter, when he roams the West as a “snomad.” I had the rolling house to myself, and I slept hard.

What better alarm clock than the call of the loon? None came to mind that morning. I ambled down the stairs from the driveway to the cabin, and zipped into Tim’s outdoor shower, one of the very coolest bathing places I know – as I soaped up, I could see water skiers zipping across Big Trout. Wowie. Tim, Sue, and I had coffee on the porch, yakked a bit, and I set to work sweeping the outdoor steps and decks. I’m good with a broom. At about ten, we fired up Tim’s recent buy, a red 1946 Willys Jeep, and went for a short drive. At 11:30, I rode Tim’s comfy mountain bike to Faith Lutheran Church, ten miles there and back.

Grabbed a short nap, and at two we headed by boat to the main event of the weekend, a concert by The Elements, six old but great musicians, one of whom, Scott Ianozzi, was staying at the cabin. On the way, Tim cut the engines and we jumped in the lake. I can’t remember the last time I swam in a Minnesota lake, and it was a chilly but joyful experience. Just wonderful. The band was playing at The Moonlite, a bar and restaurant right on the water. We docked and in no time were tapping our feet. Hell, I even got out on the dance floor, rocking hard. It was such fun. We boated back, washed our faces and changed clothes, and took cars back to the Terrys’ cabin for additional fun and laughs. This was more partying than your scribe had done in at least two decades. Minnesotans do like their fun. But by ten, with a great barbecue meal in my tummy, I took leave, and was snoring minutes later. Some time later, the revelers returned, and decided it would be fun to wake me up. I was bewildered, but laughed with them.

Was up at 6:30 on Sunday morning, another clear day. Showered, packed up, and said goodbye to the lake, the woods, and the loon, whose call is such a marker of Up North. Drove south 30 miles to Brainerd, stopping for a large tub of coffee and an apple fritter, then south on Minnesota Highway 25, which runs through pleasant flatland settled by Germans, Czechs, and Poles (at one farmstead, the red and white flag of Poland fluttered next to Old Glory). I had a bit of time before my 1:45 flight, and thought hard about what to do. Got off the freeway and drove through old downtown Hopkins, a suburb north and west of where I grew up.

Down Shady Oak road, I saw the former farmstead where Mark Miller’s brother John lived in 1973-74. Suburban affluence replaced the old clapboard dwelling two decades ago. I smiled, thinking back to a warm Saturday afternoon in May of 1973, a week or so after I met Linda; she showed up at a barbecue and beer blast, which made me happy then and now. I continued on to Edina, passing the site of the childhood house that exploded earlier in the year (described in a May update); it was good to see the framed beginnings of a replacement house.

After fueling the car, on a whim I rang the doorbell at the home of Phil Ford and Debra Moline, friends from college (Deb and Phil were the very first friends to get married, in September 1972). Phil opened the door, and we began a fast yak. Deb had to go to a brunch, but chatted for 20 minutes. Since moving to Texas, I had only seen them once or twice, and did not know that she earned a Psy.D. in the 1990s, and was now a counseling psychologist with an interest in substance abuse; naturally, I mentioned Jack’s return to school and his great progress with life. Before leaving, she sat down at the Steinway in the living room, and played several lines of a piano work by Gabriel Fauré. It was lovely. She came from a musical family, and it was so good to hear her play. Phil and I visited for another 40 minutes before I had to return the rental car. I was so glad I stopped.

Airport food can be oxymoronic, but I was hungry, and found a place that sold huge rice-and-bean burritos. After getting my meal, I returned to the counter and asked Misrak, a young Somali woman (Minneapolis has a huge Somali community), for a fork. She seemed surprised when I thanked her with my voice and a smile, so when I left, I complimented the food and thanked her again. What if, I mused, we more regularly engaged people who serve us, even if briefly – especially people like fast-food employees. To so many of us, they are invisible.

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