IN MY MESS OF FLOWERBEDS, which are anything but orderly, random milkweeds grow. Some sprouted in the lawn. Others simply popped up among the phlox and ferns and iris and greenery, seeds blown by the wind, dropping to the ground, rising now toward the sun.
Back in the days of my youth, I would have yanked these milkweeds from the soil under the direction of my farmer father. Remove those weeds from the corn and soybean fields. I know better now. Milkweed plants are essential to the monarch butterfly.
The milkweed is the host plant for the monarch. They lay eggs on the leaves, the larvae then feeding on those leaves.
Without milkweeds, the monarch would become extinct.
I appreciate the value of this plant in the natural cycle, in sustaining the monarch butterfly population. This is but one example of how we are all intertwined. Every creature. One dependent on the other.
I marvel at this intricate world God created. I love to watch a monarch butterfly flit through the air, settle on a blossom, drink its fill of nectar, then rise and fly. Delicate, yet sturdy. Dependent on milkweed and other flowers, yet free.
What a lovely and beautiful sight in a world where beauty is too often missed in the busyness of life, among all the weeds.
IF YOU’VE FOLLOWED my writing long enough, you understand my dedication to increasing awareness on two important issues—domestic violence and mental health.
This week, both made headlines in my community. I can’t let this opportunity slide without sharing what’s happened/is happening in Faribault. We need to stay informed, to choose awareness over sticking our heads in the sand. Understanding leads to action and, perhaps, saving lives.
First the really good news for Faribault and the surrounding region (according to the Faribault Daily News): Our local hospital, District One, and Rice County Social Services are collaborating on new adult outpatient mental health services. The hospital, part of Allina Health, will offer a day treatment program and a partial hospitalization program for adults dealing with mental illnesses. Social services will provide referrals.
To say I am thrilled is an understatement. This is so needed in Rice County and the surrounding rural areas. Our access to mental health care, especially during or following a crisis, is limited. Waiting time to see a psychiatrist, if that doctor is even accepting new patients, can be up to six weeks. Can you imagine waiting six weeks if you were experiencing a heart attack? You would likely die. Individuals facing mental health issues—from depression to anxiety to bipolar to schizophrenia and more—deserve, and need, immediate access to local care. As do their families.
To get treatment and support locally, rather than traveling to the Twin Cities metro, will ease some of the stress during an already stressful situation. Even with this improvement in services, though, we really need more mental health professionals to alleviate the shortage and meet the area’s needs.
In both of these situations—domestic abuse/violence and mental health crises—people are here to help. I feel thankful to live in a community that cares. No one ever needs to feel alone, to face life’s challenges and stresses solo.
I know Amanda tried. She called 911. To make that call took strength and courage. Still, she died. If Amanda’s death can save one life, can result in one person safely leaving an abusive partner, then something positive has come from this tragedy.
Where does all of this leave us as individuals? I encourage you to educate yourself on domestic abuse/violence and mental illness. Then take that knowledge and show your care and compassion to those who need it. To those experiencing challenges. And their families. Listen. Support. Encourage. Refer to professionals. Be that person who chooses not to ignore, but rather to be there. To engage. To understand. To uplift. To care.
This 1957 mission was kept intentionally secretive given the time period. Months later the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik. The space race was on.
That Minnesota played an important role in the U.S. efforts to win that race is significant. And, of all places, this happened in an iron mine pit outside a small mining community on the Cuyuna Range. A 200-foot wide paper-thin balloon holding 3 million cubic feet of helium lifted the capsule skyward from the base of the Portsmouth iron mine pit. Eventually the spaceship landed in a flax field near the North Dakota/South Dakota border. And, as our tour guide Tim told me, Simons was met by a rancher and a young boy on horseback. That boy showed more interested in an arriving helicopter than the capsule, so the story goes.
The story of MAN HIGH II truly impresses me, especially after seeing the small size of the replica capsule and feeling the thinness of the helium balloon. (The actual capsule is displayed at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.) Simons was one brave man to confine himself inside that tight space for 44 hours. He was sealed in well before arriving at the iron mine pit from South Saint Paul. Claustrophobia got the best of another candidate. I would feel the same. Simons endured much—lack of sleep, extreme temperatures, uncertain weather, and the very real fear that he could die if the thin helium balloon developed even a crack.
As much as Jeff Bezos and crew made history with their 62-mile high, 10-minute and 25-second space journey, using the best technology possible, the flight of MAN HIGH II 64 years ago from a Minnesota mine pit impresses me even more. The people behind the 1957 flight truly represent pioneering in space. They blazed the trail for men to land on the moon and, yesterday, for civilians like Bezos to pursue space travel.
FYI: The Soo Line Depot Museum in Crosby houses a detailed display on MAN HIGH II. You can climb inside the replica capsule for a photo. Tour guide Tim was especially knowledgeable. You can also visit the site of the launch, the Portsmouth Pit by Crosby, although I didn’t this time. Next trip. I encourage you to check out the Crosby museum, which also highlights Minnesota’s worst mining disaster. More on that in an upcoming post.
THE CF CARD in my Canon DSLR EOS 20-D brims with photos from a week at the lake cabin. The storyteller in me holds stories waiting to be written. But, right now, I have something more important to share and that is a public service announcement followed by a subtle nudge (or more accurately, a shove).
First, consider donating blood through the American Red Cross. There’s a severe shortage. That’s the message we’ve heard for weeks. In June, after a year’s pause, I resumed donating. I just didn’t feel comfortable giving during the worst of the pandemic. Yes, I realize health and safety measures were being taken to protect donors, but…I didn’t want a stranger close to me for any length of time indoors.
Now that I’ve been fully-vaccinated for several months, I felt comfortable donating blood again. It’s an easy process which requires screening for eligibility and about an hour of my time. On June 16, I lay on a table at the Eagle’s Club in Faribault, blood flowing from my vein into a bag. While donating, I never really think about how my blood could save a life. I just do it.
The Red Cross occasionally emails donors with general details about their blood donation destination. I’ve found that particularly informative and connective in a deeply personal way. This time my blood “after first ensuring that local needs were met,” went to Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. To whom, I have no idea. But simply knowing I helped a patient at a Philadelphia hospital means something to me. I now hold a personal connection to someone nearly 1,200 miles away from my southern Minnesota home.
Not only did I glean that bit of info from the Red Cross, but I also learned that I’ve developed COVID-19 antibodies as a reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, just as I expected. It’s reassuring to read those results from tests done on my blood donation. The Red Cross sometimes, but not always, tests for those antibodies. And, yes, tests do distinguish between antibodies developed from having the virus or from vaccination.
That leads to my next plea. Please, if you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated against COVID-19. Like donating blood, vaccination can save lives—yours or that of a family member, friend or even a stranger. It’s such a simple thing to do. My heart breaks when I hear of family members, friends or others who refuse to get vaccinated for whatever reason. I don’t want to lose any of them to a potentially serious and deadly viral infection that can be prevented. The unvaccinated are putting themselves at risk, especially with the highly-contagious and more serious Delta variant now spreading rapidly in the US and elsewhere. Health officials are now terming COVID-19 a virus of the unvaccinated.
So, yes, when people spout untruths about vaccinations and how they don’t need them and are not at high risk and so-and-so who had COVID didn’t get sick and it’s all about personal choice, I think of my grandchildren. And I think of my cousin who missed five weeks of work after contracting the virus and who is only now back working half-days. I think of my friend who lost her step dad first, and then her mom a month later to COVID. I think of my friend whose sister died of the virus. I think of my husband’s cousin, who lost her spouse, a previously healthy 60-year-old. I think of…the list of personal connections I have to COVID-19 deaths is lengthy.
When I donate blood, I choose to save a life. Like that of the patient in Philadelphia. When I got vaccinated, I chose to save lives also. It wasn’t just about me.
I usually carry my camera while at River Bend. That causes me to really notice my surroundings. This most recent visit, I spotted an abundance of wildflowers. From woods to prairie, flowers thrive in the summer heat.
A plaque on a bench reminds hikers to take time to smell the flowers, although I didn’t dip my nose into any blossoms. Rather, I appreciated the simple beauty of color splashed in the otherwise green woods.
Even the greenery holds visual appeal in the rolling droop of grass, the lace of maple leaves, the woods that hug trails.
Messages on pavers at Honor Point, overlooking the Straight River, inspire. Be still. Pause. Appreciate.
There’s something to be said for being still. Simply being. Listening. Connecting to the earth. Perhaps remembering how you felt as a child, exploring.
In my youth, I “lived” outdoors, coming indoors only to eat and to sleep. With my siblings, we built forts in the grove, rode our bikes along dirt trails, hid in prairie grasses higher than us.
I took time. Time to play in nature. To become part of it. To imagine. When I hike at River Bend, I reclaim that childhood joy.
I savor the moments. The sights. The tastes. The scents. The sounds. All that which defines the natural world.
WARNING: Stay away from this plant, wild parsnip. It looks a lot like dill and is growing alongside trails. Wild parsnip will burn your skin. Do NOT touch it.
PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photo rich posts from my recent visit to River Bend. Next, I’ll take you into the prairie.
FOUR STUDENTS AT ST. OLAF DIE DUE TO INFLUENZA (11/21/1918)
NO CHRISTMAS CHURCH SERVICE IN NORTHFIELD (12/22/1918)
COLLEGES RETURN, WITH RESTRICTIONS (1/1919)
BELOVED CARLETON PROFESSOR FRED B. HILL DIES OF INFLUENZA (1/29/1919)
As I read the headlines and the brief summaries that followed, I considered how quickly information, and misinformation, spreads today. I considered how public health officials then, and now, recognized the seriousness of the virus and took efforts to stop the spread of the virus. The State Board of Public Health forbade public funerals and ordered wearing of gauze masks on streets and in public buildings in November 1918. Sound familiar?
But perhaps the timeline entry that struck me most personally was this item in a list of Ten Health Rules published in the February 13, 1920, Northfield News:
10. Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.
Think about that as it relates to COVID-19. Just like in 1918, our choices today affect more than ourselves. Before COVID numbers dropped in our country due to vaccinations, too many people refused to wear masks (and to wear them properly over mouth AND nose). And now people are refusing vaccination for reasons ranging from political to distrust of the vaccine (and thus of science) to believing the virus won’t make them seriously sick or kill them. It can and it does.
History tells us to expect a resurgence of the virus if such me-centered attitudes and behaviors prevail. As in 1918, the message that bears repeating is this: This is not just about us individually. This is about all of us. About caring for one another. About understanding that our choices affect the health, and thus the lives, of others.
People are still getting sick and dying from COVID-19. That’s especially true in states with low vaccination rates. Missouri, for example, has the most aggressive Delta variant outbreak, according to recent media reports. In Minnesota, Crow Wing and Cass Counties (in the heart of lake and cabin country) are experiencing a noticeable increase in COVID cases. All of this concerns health officials. And it should concern us, too, especially those who are not vaccinated, whether by choice or because they are too young for vaccination. This virus can mutate, as it did into the highly-contagious Delta variant, putting people at an even higher risk of serious illness and death.
The grief of those losing loved ones today is no less than the family of Minnie Marko, 21, who died in 1918 in Northfield. Minnie didn’t have the option of a vaccine. We do.
THE JULY FOURTH WEEKEND took me back home, home being my native southwestern Minnesota. There my extended family gathered at my middle brother’s rural acreage near Lamberton for the first time since December 2019. To see so many family members—not all attended—felt wonderful.
Being back in that rural area of our state, in a familiar landscape, felt comforting. No matter where I’ve lived as an adult, Redwood County remains home. The place of my roots. The land and sky and wind imprinted upon me like ink on the pages of a book. Words that thread through my writing even today.
Perhaps my perspective seems too nostalgic. And if it does, I offer no apologies. I value the place which shaped me as a person and as a writer and photographer.
The familiar scenes which appear before me en route from Faribault to southwestern Minnesota welcome me back. The red barns. The vast fields of corn and soybeans. The expansive sky. Even the tractors and farm wagons and pick-up trucks.
All are part of the rural-ness. My rural-ness. The grain elevators and gravel roads and power lines stretching seemingly to infinity.
I could write chapters about the gravel roads I biked as a teen—how the gravel crunched beneath tires, how wild roses flourished in ditches, how vehicles kicked up dust. I could write chapters about barns—how I labored inside ours, feeding cows and calves, and pitching manure. I could write chapters about the ice and snow storms that left our farm without electricity, once for an entire week in the depth of winter.
A trip back to southwestern Minnesota prompts such memories. I remember. I relive. But, most of all, I recognize just how thankful I am to have been raised in this rural region. On the land. In the shadows of silos and grain elevators. Just a softball pitch away from the barn. Within scent of cows, steers and calves. As close to the earth as bare feet or the end of a hoe hacking cockle burrs in a soybean field.
As rural scenes unfold, my memories, too, unfurl. Memories of hard work and challenges balanced by carefree afternoons and prairie sunsets and all the beauty this place holds for me. Still today, some 40-plus decades after I left this land.
EVERY VISIT WITH MY MOM in her care center proves emotional for me. I always leave in tears. I cry at the gratitude I feel for seeing her one more time. I cry at the thought that this may be the last time I see her this side of heaven. I cry at her declining health. I cry at the time lost with her during the COVID-19 pandemic when care centers shuttered, and rightly so.
This last visit on July 3 was different, though. Not because I didn’t cry upon departure. I did. But rather, I was able to remove my face mask once inside Mom’s room (since I’m fully-vaccinated) and then hug and kiss her for the first time in 16 months. To do that brought me joy almost beyond words. There’s such healing power in touching someone you love. I can only imagine how Mom felt.
The moment Mom saw me as staff wheeled her into her room, her face lit up. I could see the light in her eyes, the smile hidden by her face mask. For her to recognize me as her eldest daughter started our 9 AM visit in a joyful way.
With our masks removed, I moved a folding chair close, then reached under Mom’s fleece throw to grasp her right hand. Mom pulled back, my hand too cold. Then I leaned in, kissed her forehead, wrapped my arms around her, careful not to displace the oxygen tubes which enable her to breathe.
Those first minutes together felt overwhelmingly emotional in the way that only a mother and daughter can respond to one another. This is the woman who loved and nurtured me, who raised me in the faith, who taught me that kindness and compassion and serving others are more important than prestige and wealth. What a blessing to be raised by her. I shall be forever grateful.
As I settled in for our visit, I pulled a stash of vintage photos from a cloth bag. I’d emailed the care center social worker in advance, asking what I could bring that would make Mom happy. Jessie suggested old photos. She was spot on. Mom reacted in such a positive way to photos of herself at age four, of her parents in 1956, of Dad (“That’s my husband,” Mom said), of my oldest brother and me as preschoolers… Mom identified family in the photos and smiled and talked. Our visits aren’t ususally this engaging. Typically I’m the one talking with minimal response from Mom. Clearly her memories of long ago are much stronger than recent and short-term memories. I promised to bring more old family photos next visit.
All too soon, our time together ended and I was hugging Mom goodbye, tears edging my eyes well before I exited her room. I expect by afternoon, she’d forgotten that Randy and I stopped by. But that’s OK. This isn’t about me. Rather, this is about my 89-year-old mother, who is in hospice. This is about her and her needs, about bringing her joy and love on a Saturday morning through hugs and kisses and a clutch of old family photos.
DECADES AGO, in high school and then in college, I studied the German language. I grew fluent in the native tongue of my forefathers. I felt a sense of accomplishment as my skills advanced. I decided I would major in German in college, until I determined journalism would be a better path. I’ve never regretted that decision because I love words, no matter the language.
My second daughter, though, pursued a foreign language major, earning her college degree in Spanish (much more practical than German) and then becoming a Spanish medical interpreter. Until the pandemic ended that career.
I share this to lay the foundation for my personal appreciation of other cultures. I’ve never traveled internationally and not all that much domestically, so I welcome the opportunity to experience other countries and cultures locally. From 10 am – 4 pm this Saturday, July 10, diverse cultures focus the 16th annual International Festival Faribault in Central Park.
The fest is promoted as “a global bazaar-style event featuring food, music, dance, presentations and goods from around the world.” I’ve attended several times, although not recently, and always enjoyed this Neighbor Meeting Neighbor celebration. Many of those participating in the fest are local residents, shopkeepers and vendors.
Faribault truly is an ethnically diverse community with a size-able immigrant population and with long-time residents rooted in many countries. Founding father Alexander Faribault, for example, was of French-Canadian and Dakota heritage. Our newest residents come from places like war torn Somalia.
While we’ve struggled in the past to accept one another, I feel like things are settling, that we are beginning to celebrate our differences and recognize the value of those differences.
Newcomers to Faribault are here to stay. They live, work and play here. Attend school. Own businesses. And that’s reason to celebrate. We are a stronger community because of our diversity.
I encourage locals and people from out of town to attend Saturday’s International Festival Faribault. International dancers, music, a flag ceremony, arts and crafts, kids’ activities (including the popular pinata breaking), henna and food from around the world will be among the offerings. Perhaps someone will represent the German heritage by serving sauerkraut and brats or pumping out polkas on an accordion…
NORTH MORRISTOWN on the Fourth of July suits me and my rural roots. Not that I’m rooted to this place in the middle of farm country in southwestern Rice County. But the down-to-earth basics of this nearly 130-year-old Independence Day celebration appeal to the raised-on-a-Redwood-County-farm girl in me.
I appreciate how this event, held annually on festival grounds in a rural Minnesota landscape, remains basically unchanged. Just like North Morristown, which is not a town, but rather farm sites, fields, a Lutheran church and school, and the grassy, shaded celebration site.
The rural character of July Fourth here prevails. In tractors and grain trucks. In barns, machine sheds and farmhouses. But it stretches beyond that to the people, to families rooted in North Morristown for generations. In many ways, Independence Day here is as much a celebration of our nation’s birthday as it is one big family reunion. With guests, like me, welcomed.
The event feels friendly and comfortably homey. I recognize that doesn’t come without a lot of planning, time, effort and hard work on the part of volunteers. I’ve coordinated and led events much smaller than this and fully realize the work and commitment.
So to those who spearheaded this year’s Fourth of July in North Morristown, thank you. And to those who have led in the past, thank you also. You are bringing joy to a lot of people. You are preserving the past. You are bringing people of all ages together from all over, this year from as far away as the Philippines. You are strengthening families and building memories. You are offering an alternative to high tech everything.
In a fast-paced world, we need a place and event like North Morristown on the Fourth to remind us to slow down, to sit for a spell. To listen to the music. To savor a slice of homemade pie or a pork sandwich. To visit with friends and family and strangers. To watch babies toddle in bare feet and kids climb onto vintage horses. To play BINGO or hunt for a hidden medallion. To feel grateful for faith and family and health and country.
At its core, North Morristown on the Fourth represents so many things I hold dear. I expect others feel the same.
TELL ME: Did you attend the North Morristown July 4 celebration or one similar? I’d like to hear.