Wednesday, October 16, 2013

At Home in the Country

I met my neighbor Pat the other day. She was out working in the back garden and her little dog ran out to greet me as I walked by.

 “Watch out, he’ll lick you to death,” she said.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m….Well, you know who I am. You’ve seen us come and go.”

“Indeed I have,” she cracked a smile. “I especially like to see the men riding by on that little pink bicycle.”

“Yeah, I saw that in the garage. The tires look to be a little low. Say, you have a nice garden here.”

“Thank you. I decided to quit work early and get some bulbs planted.” She’d pulled up some gladiolas that were lying across an antique wheelbarrow.

I said: “When I see the tulips in the spring I always say, ‘I’m going to plant some this fall,’ but I never do. Where do you work?”

“In the nursing home,” she waved a finger to the east vaguely. “My mother’s in there. She’s 104.”

“That’s pretty good. Did you grow up here in New York Mills, then?”

“I’m from here…but I lived in St. Paul for many years. St. Anthony Park. I came back to take care of my mother. Life is much more peaceful here. My kids come to visit occasionally. I couldn’t live in the cities any more. I’d forget to lock the door, leave my purse in the car, lose my way on the freeway.”

I was headed down to the cultural center on foot to print a document. When I arrived Kathy, Betsy, and Jamie were huddled in their tiny office in the back, trying to solve some problem related to a new software package they were testing. Betsy came out to get the proper printer in line at the front desk, and while I sat there fiddling with my flash drive another man came striding vigorously in.

“Is Jamie here?” he asked.

“Yeah, he’s back there.” The man--he was from Duluth--was delivering a demo CD of his duo, and I enjoyed eavesdropping on the banter passing back and forth back between him and Jaime, whom he obviously knew well.

 Kathy was too deep into her Excel sheet to pay much attention to me, but I did get a chance to chat with Betsy for the first time. Bright and outgoing, she’s raising three young sons while also managing various aspects of the center’s arts residency program. She was raised in these parts, and spent summers at the family cabin on Big Pine Lake a few miles west of here.

 She met her husband at college in Indiana, lived in Minneapolis for ten years, working for Target’s .com division downtown. When a job opened up at the bank in New York Mills, they decided to move back up here. Now they, too, have a summer place on the lake.

 “But I’m a city girl, even up here,” she insisted. “I don’t really enjoy gardening, for example, though when the kids get older we’ll probably start one so they can watch things grow. We belong to a CSA.”

“I like the principle," I replied, "But isn’t it hard to use up all those vegetables? Really, how much eggplant and kohlrabi does a household need? I live ten minutes from the biggest farmers’ market in the upper Midwest. Just think of the leeks, the parsnips, the fresh duck!”

 “I know,” she agreed. “And it’s fun to go to the farmers market! The strange thing is, here we are in the middle of farm country, and the produce at the supermarket isn’t really very good.”

 “People are growing cash crops, I suppose, rather than truck farming.”

 “They’re growing potatoes for McDonalds. That’s what they’re growing.”

 Betsy and her husband were off to the Wisconsin Dells for the weekend to rendezvous with some college friends. Three couples, eight kids, sitting by the pool, gathering firewood in the nearby woods. She offered to bring in some kale that was sitting in her fridge and would otherwise never get eaten.

 “If you think of it,” I said. “You’ve got a lot going on.”

 We discussed the relative merits of Door County and Bayfield (Betsy’s husband is from Green Bay). Somehow the Cedar Cultural Center crept into the conversation, and I described a lukewarm concert of Sami music that Hilary and I heard there recently. A little later we found ourselves analyzing the difference between events that support an organization’s mission and those that advance its mission.

“We don’t want to book local cover bands,” she said. “It might be popular, but that’s not our mission. There must be a middle ground. We could, maybe, have an Octoberfest? There are plenty of Germans in the vicinity, it would be fun, and we could raise some money.”

By Friday afternoon I was really starting to feel at home. Why? Because Hilary came up to visit. That afternoon we took a spin through the lake-stream-marsh country north of Fergus Falls. We spent some time hunting down the Zorbaz pizza place on Little Pine Lake but found it a little schizophrenic. The bar was packed and overloud, the adjoining restaurant was rustic...but deserted.

After a fruitless search for a restaurant called the Cactus Grill, we settled for some deep-fried Chinese food at a strip-mall in Perham, then returned to my hippie pad for a rousing Scrabble tourney that ended in a tie.

We drove an hour north to Itasca the next morning, took a fine hike through the sodden but golden woods, and ran into a couple from Sweden along the way. He'd been transferred to Minneapolis for two years, and he and his wife were on a weekend excursion.

"Do you like it around here?" I asked.

"Very much so," he replied, in slightly clipped but otherwise perfect English. "It looks a lot like Sweden."

On our trip back we stopped in Huntersville (not much to see there, but who knows? We might canoe the Crow Wing River someday) and Wadena. It continued gray and misty but the rain never really got serious.

The next morning broke cool and utterly clear; we took a spin west down Highway 108 to Maplewood State Park where we hiked through spectacular maple forests and out around some fine kettle lakes.

We had the buffet lunch at a supper club north of Pelican Rapids. An Octoberfest polka party was taking place in the room next door—with live accordion music.

I almost wish now that we'd taken an Octoberfest helicopter ride. Maybe next year?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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