EACH SPRING I ANTICIPATE the appearance of newborn ducks and geese in the wild. There’s something about these waterfowl that appeals to me. Perhaps it’s the cuteness factor. Or maybe it’s the reassurance that, despite the ever-changing chaotic world, some things remain constant. Eggs hatch. Ducklings and goslings emerge. And the cycle of life continues.
On the recent day I went duck and goose hunting with my camera here in Minnesota, far from Boston, I found only goslings. No ducklings. I approached with caution. I’ve learned from experience that Canada geese are aggressively protective of their young. I already hold childhood trauma from enduring vicious rooster attacks. I don’t need to add to that.
And so I watched and focused, thankful for my zoom lens which allowed getting close to the geese without getting close. The young ones appeared to be at teenage stage, rather than vulnerable baby stage. Thus my trust of even the youngest rated zero.
I was fully aware that the geese were aware of my presence. People occasionally toss bread to waterfowl here (something I wish they wouldn’t do), so they may have expected a hand-out. Not from me. I was simply there to observe and document while dodging excrement, one of the hazards of stepping into a Robert McCloskey scene.
Despite the caution, despite the need to watch my step, I will continue to delight in this annual rite of spring which draws me to the banks of the Cannon River in southern Minnesota. Far from Boston.
I TOOK A FIELD TRIPTODAY. Not the fun sort like my granddaughter, Isabelle, took Thursday to see a performance of “The Adventures of Tortoise and Hare” at the Ordway in St. Paul. Rather mine was into the outdoors, outside a physical therapy office in Faribault.
Friday marked my seventh vestibular rehab therapy session with Ryan at Courage Kenny. I started weekly therapy in mid April after being diagnosed with vestibular neuronitis and Meniere’s Disease. These are complex diagnoses which affect the vestibular system in my right ear. (Click here to read an earlier blog post that details my many symptoms.) Basically, therapy is retraining my brain to handle the deficiencies I’m now experiencing due to damage to my eighth vestibular nerve. And to think this all started with a viral infection in January.
Back to today. Typically I meet with my physical therapist in a small room where we review my symptoms and progress and I learn, and practice, new exercises. Last week we ventured into a long hallway so I could walk back and forth, moving my head from side to side and then up and down. I didn’t do so well, veering to the left and into the wall. But I practiced at home all week, as I do all exercise homework Ryan assigns, and I felt I was doing better. I am determined to do everything I can to reclaim my life, or at least some version of what life was before these health issues.
OK, WE’RE TAKING THIS OUTSIDE
Then Ryan announced we were going outside to try this walking and head turning activity on the sidewalk. I started out not so well, again steering left. Being outdoors added sensory input I wasn’t used to experiencing inside a small room. This exposed me to a real world environment. One with chirping birds and traffic and people crossing the parking lot and trees and clouds. Just a whole lot for my brain to try and manage. Once I’d semi-managed the sidewalk, we moved onto the lawn. Another new landscape to take in while I moved my head and attempted to walk a straight line.
That was my field trip. A change-up from a controlled environment. My ability to handle my symptoms has assuredly improved with therapy as Ryan nudges me to push myself more. And I am. I’m out and about some now, trying to do things I once didn’t think twice about doing. Trips to the grocery store, big box stores, a walk in the park, doing photography, simply being among people. It’s not always easy, especially when symptoms flare. Sometimes I fail. I recognize my limits. That includes time on the computer. Too much online time and my head begins to hurt, my vision blurs, I see double. Because of that, I’ve been publishing fewer blog posts.
Each month Beth Ann chooses a different group or nonprofit to feature and support with a financial gift. I was humbled by her desire to increase awareness of vestibular issues. And, bonus, she enlightened me about the Vestibular Disorders Association which, at quick glance, will be a valuable resource as I navigate my diagnoses. I feel validated just scrolling through the website, like I want to shout, “This is real! This isn’t just in my head. It really, truly is in my head!”
GOING TO CHINA WITHOUT GOING TO CHINA
Earlier this week I endured an MRI per my neurologist’s orders to assure nothing else is going on inside my brain besides the already-known. I get results on Wednesday. He’s confident nothing additional will be found and I hope he’s right. While in that machine for an hour trying to manage the blasts of overpowering noise (I’m hypersensitive to sensory input), I remembered Ryan’s advice to “dig deep” to get through the procedure. I think I dug a hole all the way to China.
Next week I will need to dig deep again to get through another hearing test, followed by an appointment with the ENT given persistent, intermittent ear pain and more. I’m documenting my symptoms (once a reporter, always a reporter). And I’m hoping for answers as I press onward, preferring not to travel internationally again.
EVERYONE OUGHT TO OCCASIONALLY take a drive into the countryside along back county roads and gravel roads trailing dust. It’s good for the soul, spirit and mind to route into a quiet place defined by fields and farm sites. Away from town. Away from houses clumped together in blocks. Into a wide open place where land and sky meet and space seems infinite.
Randy and I found all of that recently as we drove east of Faribault, passing fields sprouting corn, farm sites nudging the highway. We aimed toward our friend Barb and Bob’s farm, invited there to harvest rhubarb. It’s an annual spring rite for us.
But for me, this is about much more than gathering rhubarb. It’s about enveloping myself in the peacefulness of rural Minnesota. When only the trill of birds, the roar of a tractor and conversation with our friends break the silence, I feel utterly, contentedly at home. I feel grounded and rooted and connected and transported back to the farm of my youth, albeit 120 miles to the west.
I never pull a single stalk of rhubarb from the patch next to the aged clay block smokehouse. While Randy harvests, I roam. With my camera.
First, I pause to take in the rural landscape—fields, trees, gravel road below a clear blue sky. Oh, place of my heart.
Then I head toward the silo towering over the farm site. Many times I climbed the ladder into the silo back on my childhood farm to fork silage and toss it down the chute to feed the cows. It was hard, smelly work. But when you worked on a dairy, livestock and crop farm 60-plus years ago, chores were labor intensive.
From the silo, I turn my focus to the weathered plywood quilt block square displayed on the side of a tin-covered pole shed. The artwork, “Star Shadow,” honors Barb’s passion for quilting. It’s a nice addition to the building. I like barn quilt art, which surged in popularity perhaps a decade or more ago. There are places in Minnesota, like the Caledonia area in Houston County, where you can take a self-guided tour and view 59 barn quilts. For my generation, especially, quilts are part of our family history. Patchwork quilts layered beds, providing warmth on frigid Minnesota winter nights. I cherish remembrances of my paternal grandmother’s quilt tops, quilting frame and the quilts she gifted to me and all of her 40-plus grandchildren.
This visit to Barb and Bob’s farm brings back so many memories. I wander among the apple trees, most blossoms spent, and watch an elusive Monarch butterfly flit among the branches. I can almost taste the sweetness of apple jelly spooned onto buttered toast.
I check in with Randy, who hasn’t called me to help with the rhubarb harvest. He understands the pull I feel to photograph. Via photography, I notice details and that is such a gift. He’s gathered a growing stash of thick green stalks tipped in pink. Rhubarb seems such a humble fruit. Perfect for crisp, sauce or pie.
A tractor roars by then, dust rising around and behind as it pulls an unfamiliar farm implement down the gravel road. A roller, Randy notes later when we pass a packed farm field.
Then quiet settles again. Randy gathers the pile of rhubarb leaves, tidying the area around the old smokehouse.
We head back toward the farmhouse, this time rousing Barb and Bob, who earlier did not hear Randy’s knocks. We settle in for a chat which turns into a lengthy conversation in the shade of trees, near the lilac bush, in their front yard garden. Birds sing. Butterflies fly. Words rise. Cold, filtered well water poured from a fancy pitcher into thick, hefty glasses quenches thirst. The four of us simply enjoy each other’s company. No hurry. Nowhere to be.
I step away to photograph several of Barb’s many birdhouses.
And then the orange farm cat appears. I excuse myself again, to photograph Fred, who requires significant coaxing to come closer. But he is skittish. My camera lens, followed by the click of the shutter scares him away.
I circle back to the conversation circle, passing a bird bath with a trio of ballet dancers centering that circle. They are graceful and beautiful and seemingly out of place in this rural setting. Yet, they are not. The countryside overflows with grace and beauty. The grace of silence and solitude. And the beauty of the natural world.
On this day, I need this. To be in the serenity of this quiet place. To take in the countryside. To see the sky, the trees, the land. To talk with Barb and Bob. And then to leave with a clutch of rhubarb and the promise of warm rhubarb crisp pulled from the oven.
WHEN I WAS COMING OF AGE, women’s voices were growing louder, stronger as part of the women’s liberation movement. Women of the 60s and 70s sought equal opportunities and rights in society, in the workplace, in life in general.
I myself became the first female to join the Future Farmers of America chapter at Wabasso High School in the early 1970s. You can bet the boys eyed me with suspicion, wondered what business a girl had in a club that, up until then, was exclusive to males. But I didn’t care what they thought.
Obviously, I never went on to become a farmer, to marry a farmer or work in an ag-related field. But I covered agriculture while freelancing and also working for several rural weekly and daily newspapers. My FFA involvement, but mostly my farm background, proved useful in writing news stories and features.
And then there was the fact that I was a female journalist. That did not sit well with everyone in the small Minnesota town where I worked right out of college. I was opening disdained by more than one school and city official who preferred I not report on controversial topics. While their demeaning behavior and negative attitudes frustrated me, that did not deter me from covering public meetings and reporting what was said. I had an editor and publisher who backed me up. He knew I was just doing my job and doing it well and that no angry man would stop me.
Thankfully, attitudes toward women have improved through the years, personally and professionally. Not to say change is not yet needed. But women are generally treated better than decades ago. I doubt a public employee or elected official today would treat a female journalist the way I was in the late 70s and early 80s without repercussions. And I doubt high school boys would get away with openly questioning why a girl could join FFA.
This all provides the backstory to a recent discovery. I was waiting at my local community bank to do business when I noticed a handful of coloring books racked in a holder. I pulled out a Justice League Jumbo Coloring & Activity Book and flipped through the pages. And when I happened upon the FINISH THE PICTURE Draw the other half of Superman™, I nearly shouted, “YES!” Instead of drawing Superman as instructed, someone (a woman or girl, I expect) drew Wonder Woman.
As a woman, I felt such validation in that moment. Yes, women can be superheroes, too. Yes, women can break away and out and above and beyond and decide, no, I’m not drawing the other half of Superman. I’m drawing me—a strong woman.
MONDAY EVENING RANDY AND I crammed a full-size used mattress and box spring into the back of our van. It was not an easy task, but we squeezed both inside. We intended to drop the worn out set off at the Rice County Landfill the next day upon our return from a medical appointment in Northfield. Sometimes, though, plans go awry.
En route to Northfield early Tuesday morning, we noticed smoke billowing in the distance. Randy said he’d seen the same smoke on Monday, but much thicker, blacker. Burning tires type of smoke. The closer we got to Northfield, the denser the smoke, enough to warrant turning on the headlights. Smoke settled like fog upon the landscape. The air smelled putrid.
Before we left Northfield, we learned the fire was at the county landfill, a blaze which began Monday evening among all that trash. Still, we were hopeful we could drop off the mattress and box spring. What were we thinking? Randy turned the van off Minnesota State Highway 3 onto the road leading to the landfill. There a portable electronic sign flashed that the landfill was closed to the public and open to licensed haulers only.
So here we are, many days later, driving around with an old mattress and box spring filling the bulk of our van. The latest update from the county states that the landfill will remain closed to non-licensed haulers at least through Monday. There are health and environmental concerns related to the still smoldering (maybe still burning) garbage. I appreciate that local and state officials are monitoring, testing, protecting.
For county residents like us who need to get rid of household items, county officials have now provided a list of local licensed garbage haulers who are accepting things like mattresses and box springs. I called two haulers. One quoted me a price of $65, the other $70 for each piece. So we’re talking $130-$140, a price we don’t want to pay.
I then checked the county landfill website for disposal pricing. There are three options: $25 for each piece if they’re recyclable. What makes a mattress and box spring recyclable? I have no idea. Next, $35/each with prior permission. Finally $55/each without prior permission. Permission from whom? And why is prior permission needed? I appreciate clarity. (And I thought to myself, no wonder people dump mattresses and box springs in ditches if disposals costs range from $50-$110.)
What also remains unclear are how long the fire will burn/smolder, how the environment and air quality have been impacted, and how the health of anyone who’s breathed in that smoke has been affected. Randy and I traveled through that smoke, breathed it in on our drive to and from and during our time in Northfield.
And we live only eight miles from the landfill, which was near enough for that smoke to drift…and we did close the windows in our house Thursday evening because of a putrid odor. Was the smell from the landfill fire? I don’t know. As for that bed set, it’s still stuffed in the back of the van.
YEARS AGO, A VARIETY OF WILDLIFE frequented the wooded hillside behind our garage and spilled over into our and our next-door neighbors’ yards. Raccoons, woodchucks, opossums, skunks, even a fox once, and evidence of deer in tracks left behind. Such sightings were not unusual, even though we live in the heart of Faribault along an arterial street. But the Straight River runs only a few blocks away and our property edges Wapacuta Park atop the hill. Both make for inviting wildlife habitat. That doesn’t explain, though, why we no longer see an assortment of animals.
Now only squirrels and rabbits scamper through the woods and yard, along with voles and the mice I never see but which occasionally find a route into the basement of our aged house. (Within the past week, though, I’ve found two dead mice in our backyard. What’s with that?) Feral cats sometimes wander our corner lot, too. I expect other animals may roam my neighborhood in the cover of dark. I’ve heard coyotes howling while attending an evening concert at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and while visiting friends just outside of town.
One wild animal I haven’t seen yet is a black bear. Typically, they don’t venture this far south from their northern Minnesota habitat. But that has changed in recent years. In late April, bear sightings were reported twice in my county of Rice. The first report came at 2:30 pm on April 26 and the second on April 28 at 9:33 pm, according to a bear sighting map published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Around that time Northfield police issued an alert about a bear and warned residents to keep their trash and bird feeders inside. I haven’t heard anything official about that bear since then.
Earlier, a bear and three cubs were spotted in Steele County, the county just to the south of Rice. That was at 2:12 am on March 7. A solo bear doesn’t seem nearly as frightening as a mama with babies. Just like human moms, the instinct is strong to protect one’s young.
As I studied the DNR bear reporting map, I was surprised to see so many sightings in the Twin Cities area, primarily in the north metro. Admittedly a higher density population may lead to more reports. Still. Olmsted, Mower and Winona counties to the southeast of Rice County also had numerous bear sightings. Winona County, especially, with many wooded areas and along the Mississippi River, seems a place where bears would feel right at home.
When we stay at an extended family member’s lake cabin in the Brainerd lakes area of central Minnesota during the summer, we are bear aware. No leaving garbage outside, no doing anything that will draw bears in from the surrounding woods. We understand we are in their habitat.
But here in southern Minnesota, primarily among corn and soybean fields, I don’t expect bears. Yet, I suppose they didn’t expect humans to wander into their homeland either, among the lakes and forests of central and northern Minnesota.
TELL ME: What wild animals have you spotted in and around your home? I’d like to hear, whether you live in Rice County or elsewhere.
HIS STRONG STANCE, one boot planted in front of the other, ramrod posture all point to his disciplined military training. I am looking at a sculpture of a US soldier, a combat infantryman. As I study him, I gaze into his haunted eyes, eyes that, by my perception, reveal the horrors of war.
Perhaps it is my own father’s stories of fighting on the front-line during the Korean War that shape my reaction to this soldier replica at the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. But this could be anyone’s interpretation. That of a daughter, like me, whose father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after leaving the killing fields of Korea. Or this could be the story of any active duty war veteran, the story of a spouse or child who lost a loved one on the battlefield, the stories of too many.
This Memorial Day, I pause to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice—their lives—to assure my freedom. My dad’s Army buddy and friend Ray was among those. Ray died the day before he was to leave Korea and return to his wife and infant daughter in Nebraska. My father witnessed Ray’s death and it broke a part of him.
These are the personal details we need to remember on Monday, a national day of mourning and remembrance for those who died on the battlefield. Veterans’ memorials and parades and programs all provide ways to honor the brave men and women who died in service to country. But their stories are equally as important. These are, after all, individuals with friends and families, likes and dislikes, histories written long before they were drafted or enlisted and then called to war.
Many Minnesota communities have veterans’ memorials. While designs differ, they share the commonalities of a centerpiece sculpture, sometimes a soldier or an eagle or some other strong symbol; pavers with veterans’ names imprinted; American and other flags; and ways to recognize all branches of the military. It is the names, accompanied by the initials KIA, which break my heart. KILLED IN ACTION. I recognize the intense pain and heartbreak experienced by loved ones back home. The grieving families. The Gold Star Mothers, a mother who lost a child in service to country. The fatherless children, like Teri, the infant daughter of my dad’s buddy, Ray. Overwhelming grief imprints upon those stone pavers.
This Memorial Day, I encourage you to reflect on the war dead whom we honor on Monday. Walk through a cemetery and pause at the graves marked by small American flags. Attend a Memorial Day program not out of a sense of obligation, but out of gratitude. I feel thankful for a free press. Not every country has such freedom.
Spend time at a veterans’ memorial beyond a precursory walk through. Appreciate the words, the names, the symbols, the artwork. And, if a soldier sculpture centers the memorial, look into his eyes and remember this biblical quote pulled from the memorial service folder my dad carried home from Korea: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
That July 31, 1953, service folder from Sucham-dong Korea lists 28 soldiers who died on the battlefield, among them my dad’s beloved buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe, age 22. It is my dad’s grief and trauma I see when I gaze into the eyes of that soldier sculpture in Northfield. War carries so much death and loss and pain. I vicariously understand that. This Memorial Day I remember, reflect, honor, carry on my heart the heaviness of war.
DISCLAIMER: If you don’t want to read the words snow or winter, then stop reading. This is a post about both. But also about spring. And a book.
Three prompts led me to write on this seasonal topic. First, when I was scanning my mom’s journals recently, I came across a May 11, 1966, entry in which she wrote, “Snow on the ground.” This didn’t surprise me. Occasionally snow falls in southern Minnesota in May. While I don’t recall the 1966 snow Mom references, I do remember driving back from my native prairie once on Memorial Day weekend to see snow atop a car in New Ulm. That would be at the end of May.
Secondly, a few weeks ago, Randy asked whether he should put the snow shovels away. I encouraged him to wait. And he did, until he felt confident the possibility of snow had passed. It has. I hope.
With minimal words per page, Schroeder writes the story of a week-long snowfall. Day after day after day the snow piles high around a menagerie of animals. Rabbit, fox, bear, moose… Illustrator Sarah Jacoby’s art has a dreamy, soft quality, just like the falling snow. That both artist (from Pittsburgh) and author understand winter is clear in their work.
Eventually, the sun shines, the snow melts, the grass greens. And spring, so it seems, has arrived. But then, a last page surprise. You can probably guess what that may be. It happens here in Minnesota seemingly every year. Just when we think winter has ended…
IN 41 YEARS OF MARRIAGE, Randy and I have always been together on our wedding anniversary. But this May 15, he was 583 miles away in Lafayette, Indiana. Monday didn’t feel at all like a celebratory day with my husband gone. But I understood. He left southern Minnesota on Friday to attend our son’s graduation with a master’s of science degree from Purdue University. My vestibular neuronitis symptoms made travel and attending the Sunday evening commencement unmanageable. This was one of those moments in life when I experienced profound disappointment.
And so our anniversary passed on Monday with a phone call and loving text messages exchanged. I knew Randy would be home the next day, which was a gift in itself.
When he rolled into the driveway at 1:15 pm Tuesday after an overnight stay with our daughter and her husband in Madison, Wisconsin, my heart filled with gratitude for his safe return and overflowed with love in his presence. One long embrace later, and we were unpacking the van.
This May that story began in Madison, 271 miles to the southeast of Faribault, about a half-way point to Lafayette. When Randy stayed with Miranda and John en route to Indiana, he noticed lilacs blooming on the next-door neighbor’s bush. So on the return trip and his second overnight stay, he remembered those lilacs, asked for permission to take some and then cut two generous branches. John found a vase. Randy added water and then the lovely lilacs.
Some 4.5 hours later, Randy was pulling that clutch of lilacs from the van. I smashed the woody ends with a hammer for better water intake, added more water to the vase and then set the bouquet on a vintage chest of drawers. Soon the heady scent perfumed our living room.
Now each time I pass those lilacs, breathe in their intoxicating sweetness, I think of my dear dear husband. I think of his love for me and me for him. And I think of how something as seemingly simple as a bouquet of lilacs gathered in a Madison yard bring me such joy. Randy’s unexpected gift compensated for his absence on our 41st wedding anniversary. I feel so loved and cherished.
Thank you, Randy, for your thoughtfulness and love.
I’M OLD SCHOOL. I like to give and receive greeting cards. Why? It’s personal. Much more personal than anything sent electronically.
I also happen to write freelance greeting card verses for a faith-based publishing company in Anderson, Indiana. I’ve done that for years, so long I can’t recall when I started. But I appreciate that Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) prints the writer’s name on the back of each card. Currently, all the cards in the boxed set, “Sympathy—Classic Condolences,” are printed with verses I penned. Order a box of these 12 cards, four designs (click here), and you’ll read my verses and see my name on the backs of the cards. I have one other card in a 2023 get well collection.
Typically I sell a handful of verses during each annual submission period. So while not particularly lucrative, writing greeting card verses for Warner challenges me. It’s not easy coming up with new ways of delivering a message. Kind of like writing poetry, every creative word counts.
Now back to greeting cards in general. I value them. They require time to choose or craft. They require putting pen to paper to sign and/or add a personal note. They require a stop at the post office or a mailbox if mailed. In other words, greeting cards take time and effort to send or give. And to me, that says something. That someone is thinking about me or I of them. That they care, that I care.
Recently, we’ve received an influx of greeting cards, starting with congratulatory wishes for Randy upon his recent retirement (well, sort of retirement as he eases into it by working fewer days each week). When I posted about his retirement, I encouraged you, my readers, to send cards. The many greetings that filled our mailbox humbled us. For Randy to receive cards from blog followers who took the time to choose or craft, sign and send greetings shows me what kind and caring hearts you have. Thank you.
Recently, I’ve also received get well cards as I deal with the difficult symptoms of vestibular neuronitis. Anyone who’s ever faced a health challenge understands just how much a card means when you’re not feeling well. Such cards uplift, encourage, show that someone cares about how you’re doing, how you’re feeling. I understand that and try to always mail cards to friends and family who need encouragement.
Lastly, Randy and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary on Monday. We’ve received a few cards. Early on in our marriage, we got lots of anniversary cards every May. Now? Not many. Maybe after you’ve been married for as long as us, the thought is not even there to send a card. I have a sister-in-law who considered it weird that I would mail an anniversary card to her and her husband. No matter her opinion, I still send them a card each year.
How about you? Are you old school like me and still appreciate greeting cards? Do you send them, receive them? Or do you prefer to convey wishes in another way, or not at all? I’d like to hear.