WITH TEMPERATURES IN THE LOW 50s here in southern Minnesota on Saturday, the unseasonably warm weather presented another opportunity for some bikers to hit the road before winter settles in for good.
This die-hard Harley rider passed us while we traveled northbound along Interstate 35 in Owatonna early Saturday afternoon.
He looked cold to me with his head hunched into his leather-clad shoulders while gripping the handlebars of his windshield-less bike. With his gloved hands in that high position, no blood flowed warmth to his fingers.
Randy guessed the windchill on that bike to be in the mid-20s based on the air temp and highway speed of 70 mph. Brrr. Now that’s cold, even for a hardy Minnesota Harley rider.
This Thanksgiving, more than ever, those seem important words to consider and then follow.
I’m thankful to my friend Beth Ann, who back in January, before 2020 evolved into the year of COVID-19, gifted me with a daily gratitude journal. It helped me then, and helps me now, to focus on reasons to feel thankful.
A quick look back to the beginning of the year shows a much different gratitude mindset as I wrote of thankfulness for photos of the grandkids, a handwritten letter, a comment from a blog reader that my images of rural Minnesota calm her, time with friends and more.
On March 7, I wrote, “Grateful for another opportunity to spend time with Mom.” I didn’t know it then, but this would mark the last time I stepped inside her care center room, hugged her, kissed her cheek. My heart hurts now every time I think of Mom. It’s an ache that never leaves, that rises sometimes unexpectedly to the surface in raw emotions. But then I reshift my thinking and consider how grateful I am that Mom is still with us, in the care of kind, caring and compassionate individuals who truly value her.
Shortly after that last in-person early March visit, everything changed. There would be no more visits inside the care center. Life as we once knew it changed due to COVID-19. My gratitude journal reflects that as my writing focused more on thankfulness for beautiful days outdoors, for mask mandates, for a stop at a winery, for country drives. And, more recently, for loved ones recovered from COVID-19, for a day that passes without news of another person I know infected with the virus.
In this year 2020, gratitude takes effort. But it’s still there. And this Thanksgiving, more than any, I feel grateful for my health, for my loved ones, for all the blessings that define my days.
Dear readers, I wish you a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving overflowing with gratitude.
I LOVE FINDING KINDNESS STONES. I appreciate the effort an artist or wordsmith takes to craft a message, add some art and then drop the stone in a public place. Each time I discover these sweet surprises, I feel uplifted. And I wonder about the individual inspired to show such kindness.
On a recent weekend, while out and about, I didn’t discover any inspirational stones. Rather I found several items left behind, the first at Medford Straight River Park. An abandoned purple scooter leaned against a picnic table in the shelterhouse near the playground with no kid in sight. As Randy and I ate our picnic lunch, a Grandma showed up with her 5-year-old granddaughter to reclaim the well-used scooter, forgotten the previous evening. How small town, I thought.
The next day, while picnicking again, this time at Mill Park in Dundas, I noted black-frame glasses stuck in the crack of a picnic table. What is it about picnic tables and stuff left behind? Now, if I’d left my glasses behind, I would struggle to see, such is the state of my vision. Randy checked and confirmed the lost glasses were cheaters. Whew.
From Mill Park, we crossed the Cannon River pedestrian bridge to Memorial Park by the ball field.
There, by the playground, sat two perfectly fine lawn chairs. Opened, as if someone had recently occupied the two spots. But there were no adults, no kids, anywhere, except a couple picnicking by the ball diamond, bikes parked nearby. Obviously not their chairs.
Next, we drove to Northfield, parked downtown and walked around. While crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River, I discovered a mini skull atop dirt in an otherwise empty flower box hanging on the bridge. The skull looked pretty darned real to me. But then I remembered that just days earlier it was Halloween and I figured that was the reason someone left a skull behind.
TELL ME: Have you ever found something particularly interesting left in a public place? I’d like to hear about your odd discoveries.
SOME DAYS I WISH I could simply disappear, vanish into the woods or wheel across the prairie like the Ingalls family to an unknown destination. Far from reality. Far from COVID-19.
But, since I must live in the context of a pandemic, in the place I call home, I look for places to escape nearby. And, on a recent Sunday afternoon, Randy and I disappeared into the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield off Minnesota State Highway 3.
In the nearly 40 years we have lived in Rice County, we’ve only stopped here once, many years ago for a family picnic, but never to hike. On this day we followed the rutted gravel road along the river, past a junkyard and into the wilderness parking lot. We walked a short path to the Cannon River, then a longer one along the river to a foot bridge.
To get there, we passed two tents in the primitive camping area. I delighted in watching a young family gathered in the woods near river’s edge, enjoying the outdoors, away from distracting/detracting technology. At the next tent down, I observed a caged dog.
After passing the campers, we spotted a hillside bluff of limestone looming to the side of the trail.
Springs bubbled water across the muddy path partially covered by a thin layer of wood chips. I found myself tensing at the thought of traversing mud. My slip-on shoes, unlike Randy’s treaded boots, offered zero traction. And, with a history of two falls, one on rain-slicked wooden steps that resulted in a broken wrist and subsequent surgery to implant a plate, I felt angst.
But Randy offered his hand to steady me as we walked across mud, atop slippery rocks and balanced on railroad ties. Eventually, we reached the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon.
If anything soothes me, it is water and wind. And, on this early November day, I stood on that wooden bridge, taking in the elements that calm me. River rushing over rocks. Wind roaring through woods.
The sun, too, warming me and casting artsy criss-cross shadows upon the bridge deck.
Then I noticed the trees. Tornado trees, I term them. Two years ago, in September 2018, tornadoes ravaged Rice County, including the 800-acre Cannon River Wilderness Area. Evidence of the storm remains in fallen trees, limbless trees, trees stripped of branches. In the woods. In the river. Along the riverbank. Thoughts of tornadoes invite distress as I recall the 1968 deadly tornado in Tracy, Minnesota, a storm I remember from my childhood in southwestern Minnesota. Some things you never forget.
But for a short time, I forgot about COVID as I immersed myself in the natural world. Even among tornado trees, some of which groaned in the strong wind.
As Randy and I retraced our steps along the muddy path, I focused on getting safely back to the parking lot without falling. But in a single step onto a rounded rock, my shoes slipped and I felt myself falling to the right. Thoughts of another broken bone flashed. As did the likelihood that my camera would be destroyed. Yet, Randy, who had been gripping my hand, caught me, even as he, too, nearly landed in the mud. I felt gratitude for his strength, for his support, for his care. We have traversed many a difficult journey through life. Together. And for that I am grateful, especially during a global pandemic.
WITH SNOW LAYERING the ground as I write this several days before publication and with the furnace cranking out heat to stave off the cold, warmer days seem but a distant memory. But not that long ago, on November 7 and 8, we were enjoying warm temps and sunshine here in southern Minnesota. And my photos document that.
On that recent weekend, Randy and I finished raking and hauling leaves to the compost pile on Saturday morning. Then we packed a picnic lunch with intentions of an afternoon wandering through rural Minnesota with no specific destination. One of our Sunday afternoon drives, except on a Saturday. Only briefly did we discuss staying home to wash windows. Nope, the weather was too nice and we wanted to enjoy the afternoon. In Minnesota we recognize such beautiful November days as rarities to savor in time spent outdoors. Playing, not working.
So we gased up the van and then headed south on the back county road to Medford. A few miles from Faribault, we heard a clunk and Randy realized he’d left the gas cap at the gas station. We retraced our route, retrieved the cover and restarted our leisurely drive. I was a bit irritated with the husband for forgetting the gas cap. More on that later.
By the time we reached Medford, it was past noon and we were both hungry for that picnic lunch. So we pulled into the city park along the Straight River, settled in at a picnic table inside a wind-whipped shelter and watched kids on the playground while we ate our sandwiches.
Afterward, we walked around the park for a bit, down to the banks of the Straight River, around the ballpark and then back to the van. After more photos—I can always find something interesting to photograph—we were on our way.
Except we weren’t. Two blocks from the park, the power steering went out in the van. The engine light flashed on. Gauges indicated overheating. Randy switched off the van, lifted the hood and investigated. At times like this, I am thankful for a husband who has worked as an automotive machinist for decades and is extremely knowledgeable in diagnosing and dealing with vehicle issues.
I suggested we call a tow truck. Randy insisted we could make it home to Faribault. If the engine didn’t overheat. I was skeptical. Half-way back, he noted that the engine was getting hotter. Long story, but we pulled into friends’ rural property (they weren’t home) and waited about 45 minutes for the engine to cool. Back on the road, with only miles to go, Randy cut the engine at the top of a hill. The van then coasted the final miles into Faribault. At a stop sign, Randy restarted the van to get the remaining blocks home. We made it. Who would have thought?
So much for that planned afternoon outing. Randy was now out in the garage, back under the hood, rooting out the problem. He diagnosed a broken spring inside the tensioner. That caused the belt to come loose which caused the subsequent issues. A trip to the parts store and about an hour later, he had fixed the van.
But here’s the deal. Remember that forgotten gas cap and the irritation I felt over Randy’s forgetfulness? Well, if he hadn’t left the cover, we would have been further down the road, probably to Owatonna. And those extra miles likely would not have allowed us to get the van back home on our own. So, yeah, sometimes when little things like this happen and delay our best-laid plans, it’s for a reason. Lesson learned. On a beautiful day in early November in Minnesota.
AT 6 PM TODAY, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is expected to announce more restrictions related to COVID-19 during an address to our state. With cases, hospitalizations and deaths exploding, additional measures seem wise and necessary. Minnesota recorded 67 COVID deaths today, a new record.
On Tuesday afternoon, the governor led a press conference that focused on stories, what he termed “the basic human part of what COVID is.” If you read my MN Prairie Roots post yesterday, you understand the value I place on stories. Last Friday I emailed the governor’s office and suggested stories as a way to personalize COVID. Whether my email helped shape the approach taken at yesterday’s briefing, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the powerful stories shared. I feel it’s important to pass along these stories, using notes I took during Tuesday’s press conference.
“IF WE DON’T ACT NOW…”
Former State Representative Nick Zerwas from Elk River began the storytelling with his COVID experience, one which landed him in the hospital for five days. Only 39 years old but with an underlying heart defect, he required supplemental oxygen. “I was stunned that I was so overwhelmed and ill from this virus,” he said.
At times throughout the tele-conference, I heard Zerwas coughing and wondered if he would make it through the briefing.
Zerwas, a Republican, has done an about face on the virus, now advocating mask wearing and coming together to stop rampant community spread. He spoke candidly about his change in attitude, noting, though, that the virus situation (community spread) now is much different than this summer.
In his lengthy storytelling, followed by a media question, I found this statement by Zerwas to be particularly powerful: “The virus is here. If we don’t act now, God help us.”
IN THE ICU WITH HEART AND KIDNEY FAILURE
The second speaker, Sarah Winston, the mother of a 17-year-old daughter infected with COVID-19, spoke next. Hers is a story that needed to be told and to be heard by anyone who thinks they are “safe” from the ravages of the virus just because they are young and healthy.
Sarah described her daughter as a healthy student athlete who contracted COVID from an asymptomatic friend. Ella ended up in the hospital for 10 days with heart and kidney failure and more and deals now with inflammation of her heart.
This mother urged Minnesotans to stay home, to quarantine even if they test negative after exposure, to wear masks, to be safe, to be smart.
I was surprised to hear her say, though, that she wants sports to continue (for the mental health of young people).
“AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE”
Dr. Jon B. Cole, a doctor in Hennepin Healthcare emergency medicine, termed COVID-19 “an awful experience.” He spoke from both a personal and professional perspective. In March, when COVID was just breaking in this country, he canceled a trip to Florida with his wife and four children. Five days later, he developed the virus and was among the first in Minnesota to test positive for COVID. Cole emphasized how thankful he was for his decision to cancel the Florida trip.
On a professional level, he spoke of the “substantial number” of nurses and doctors now sick with the virus or in quarantine. He warned of a shortage in healthcare workers.
“I don’t want anyone else to endure what my family has had to endure,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said after sharing the story of losing her brother to COVID-19 in March. She described her brother as “a Marine, tough as nails.” He cared for their father, who died in January. Not long after, he was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and then COVID.
Flanagan noted that she never got to say goodbye to her brother, that she hadn’t processed her grief. It wasn’t until October that her family buried his ashes. Grief threaded through her narrative. As did strength and a determination that her experiences will make a difference.
She emphasized that every life has value, no matter an individual’s age in obvious reference to many elderly in care centers who have died as a result of COVID.
Flanagan said it’s “killing” her not to have Thanksgiving with her mom, asking Minnesota families to do the same so the chairs around their holiday tables are full next year. She encouraged people to drop the “magical thinking” that one Thanksgiving dinner won’t count in stopping the spread of COVID. Those were hard words to hear.
“COVID will continue to spread as long as we allow it to,” she concluded, urging everyone to take care of themselves and each other.
SOME WORDS FROM THE GOVERNOR
When the press conference ended, the media asked questions, mostly of the governor. He noted there will be a pause in sports and other restrictions announced today.
He also expressed gratitude to those who shared their stories Tuesday afternoon. I am grateful, too, for those stories which, as the governor stated in his opening remarks, add the human element to this virus.
Walz offered one final observation: “This is as bad as it was in New York in the spring.” If only he was wrong.
Take care, dear readers. Make good choices for yourself and others. Follow health and safety guidelines/mandates. Be safe. Be well.
NOTE: I welcome comments and sharing of stories. However, I moderate all comments and will not publish those which are inflammatory or which spread misinformation and/or false narratives.
As Anaas stood at the podium and talked of patients from Stacy, Brainerd, Bemidji waiting for hours for helicopters and/or ambulances to transfer them, of the ICU filling, of overwhelmed healthcare workers, I could see the stress on her face, the worry, the strong desire to convince Minnesotans to follow health and safety guidelines and take this virus seriously. If her plea doesn’t convince people, I don’t know what will.
“So, Minnesota, lawmakers, mask wearers and COVID deniers, I’m here today to say that you need to believe nurses when we tell you that these things are happening,” she said.
Just moments earlier Anaas dismissed the term frontline workers, instead shifting that to say, “Minnesota, we are your only line.”
One of her most memorable statements: “Please, Minnesota, stay home this Thanksgiving so you don’t have to ring in the new year with me.”
WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
Repeatedly throughout the news conference, our governor, public health officials and other healthcare workers (including another nurse and a doctor) called for Minnesotans to do their part, to work together, to be kind, to stay home, to mask up, to social distance, to limit their Thanksgiving celebration to their immediate household. That’s a change from just days ago when we were advised it was OK to gather with no more than 10 people from three households.
How quickly things evolve with this pandemic. Reported record high daily infections of nearly 9,000 with deaths breaking records also prompted Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm to term the numbers “terrifying.” And she warned the situation will worsen as the high infection rate translates to increasing hospitalizations and deaths in the upcoming weeks.
Mixed with that bad news, though, seemed a concerted effort by those speaking to set a positive tone. A pep fest, if you will, praising Minnesotans for their efforts thus far and inspiring them to work together as “One Minnesota” (Governor Tim Walz’ unifying theme). Walz also noted the light at the end of the tunnel in promising vaccines. But we’re not there yet. He repeatedly called upon Minnesotans to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.
A LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENT
In the midst of all the dire news, Dr. Cuong Pham of M Health Fairview delivered a light-hearted moment when he shared how he learned to cut his hair via YouTube. I appreciated the humor mixed into his observations of hospitals at near-capacity, his concern about “the little hospitals in greater Minnesota,” his worry, too, about patients with healthcare needs beyond COVID. Heart attacks, strokes, car accidents and other emergencies continue. He stressed wearing masks, with the added words “over your nose.” I appreciated that. Over, not under, your nose.
These are difficult days. There’s no questioning that. I’d like to believe that we as Minnesotans have the ability to live up to our Minnesota Nice moniker, to believe healthcare workers like Kelly Anaas who need us to listen, and, as the governor said, “fight the virus and not each other.”
NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish inflammatory comments or those which spread misinformation and/or false narratives.
I STOOD NEXT TO THE RIVER, camera aimed across the dark waters of the Cannon River to the historic building on the east bank. To the building with the gaping hole on the top floor. I struggled to hold my zoom lens still in the fierce wind of the bitterly cold Sunday afternoon. Viewing the devastating scene before me, I felt a deep sense of loss. No image I framed can fully capture the depths of loss for this southeastern Minnesota community. Material. Financial. Historic. Emotional.
Last Thursday, November 12, at around 3:30 pm, fire broke out in a restaurant’s meat smoker inside the historic Archer House in downtown Northfield and quickly spread. The 1877 sprawling inn anchors the historic downtown on the north end. It’s perhaps the most recognizable of this community’s landmarks and much-loved.
But of one thing I’m certain, if this historic river inn can be saved, it will be.
When I photographed the fire, water and smoke-damaged structure days after the fire, many others were doing the same. After viewing the inn from the west side of the Cannon, I moved to the east side, along Division Street, to get a full front view. This “landmark for hospitality and elegance” built in the French Second Empire Style stood tall and stately still, yet marred now by shattered windows, missing roof, fallen brick, and other debris.
First I photographed from across the street, atop the hill by the Northfield Public Library, stepping across a dormant flowerbed next to a wrought iron railing. Later I descended to street level to also include the street barriers and yellow tape that keep onlookers away from the scene.
No matter the photographic perspective, the view looked the same. Devastating.
TODAY MARKS A SPECIAL DAY in my life, as much as it marks a special day for my second-born, Miranda. Today she celebrates her 30-something birthday.
This post celebrates a daughter who is beautiful in every essence of her being. She is strong and loving and compassionate. Those who know her well value her quiet spirit, her resilience, her kindness. She has always been deeply considerate of others, never needing to be the center of attention, a good listener.
Those qualities made Miranda really good at what she did professionally. I write that in past tense because, earlier this year, she lost her job as an independent contract Spanish medical interpreter. That happened in the spring when Madison, Wisconsin, hospitals and clinics closed their doors to elective visits and surgeries due to COVID-19. The need for her services could be handled by in-house interpreters.
After years of interpreting, most in the Fox Valley area of northeastern Wisconsin, Miranda found herself without the job she loved. Interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients was such a good fit for her given her love of language, her calm personality and, most of all, her compassion for helping others. When you’re interpreting for patients and their families in crisis (think automobile accidents, stabbings and other medical emergencies) or getting difficult diagnoses or even at the birth of a child, it takes a special person to remain calm and professional.
Miranda realized immediately after her job loss that she needed to find other employment because it could be months before regular healthcare resumed. Eventually, she landed a job as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. Today she continues to deliver mail, working six days a week, sometimes 10-plus hours a day. I admire her positive attitude about this new job despite the long hours, only one day a week off and the political attacks a few months back on the postal service. That’s a lot of negatives.
Yet, as she’s always done, Miranda has risen above the challenges. She is strong. She is hardworking. She is resilient. I love this daughter of mine, this beautiful young woman who has always been here for our family and so many other families. Loving and caring, in her own quiet way.
It is my hope that someday she can return to interpreting. But in these days when hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients and on the cusp of, if not already, shutting down elective surgeries and visits, she needs job security. For now that comes in delivering mail as an essential worker, someone who cares about getting letters and magazines and all those packages delivered.
I remember my daughter’s early delivery, how we scrambled in the early morning hours to find someone to watch her big sister so I could get to the hospital days ahead of a scheduled C-section. Even back then, Miranda had a mind of her own. From the very beginning, she set the timetable for her life in asserting her strength and independence.
Happy birthday, dear Miranda! I love you and I miss you!