DUST RISES FROM FIELDS, clouding the air as combines rake through rows of dry soybeans.
Combines comb corn rows, too, in this season of harvest in southern Minnesota.
Take a drive in the countryside these days and you will observe farmers hard at work, bringing in the crops.
As October moves to mid-month, a sense of urgency presses into long days in the field. By 7 pm, darkness envelopes the land and farm machinery still moves, like a mammoth beast lumbering across acres of corn and soybeans, eyes aglow.
It is in this season of harvest that I feel a bit melancholy, missing my once close connection to the land. The scent of earth. The view of acres and acres and acres of crops drying to muted hues, visual evidence of a farmer’s work. The sound of combines roaring. The taste of dust and dirt. Golden orbs of soybeans sifting between fingers spread wide.
While I once experienced all those first-hand on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota, today I feel an outsider looking in. Watching. Remembering. Feeling grateful for the years I lived on a farm, never realizing then just how much those days would mean to me later in life.
Each autumn I yield to the call of harvest. I reconnect to the land. Observing. Recalling. Missing my farmer dad and my Uncle Mike, a bachelor farmer who lived the next farm place over to the east. They are decades gone now, their final harvests long-finished.
These emotions rush like a blustery October wind into my thoughts as winter approaches. As harvest continues, as seasons pass and life goes on.
TELL ME: Do you go for country drives to view the harvest? Or, if you live in a city, how do you celebrate autumn? I’d like to hear, wherever you live. I welcome harvest memories also.
WITH LABOR DAY only days away, I’m reflecting on employment. Not the unofficial end of summer or the start of school. But on jobs.
I can’t recall a time when jobs seemed so abundant, when businesses can’t find enough workers.
One look at my local paper and shopper shows postings for transit bus drivers, sandwich makers, managers, truck drivers, construction workers, nursing assistants, housekeepers, maintenance people, a city finance clerk, sports reporter, mortgage banker, cylinder delivery driver, pharmaceutical researchers, direct care staff, meat market counter help, digital media specialist, appraiser, engineering tech, bilingual-Somali eligibility worker and more.
Companies are offering sign-on bonuses, free food, enticing benefits and better wages. Not that these higher wages are high enough to meet the ever-growing cost of living in a community like mine with a housing shortage. In both rental and home ownership. I expect many in Faribault struggle to manage monthly rent of $831-$1,315, for a two-bedroom apartment, for example.
Many, despite full-time employment, struggle also to put food on the table, to afford healthcare, and more. Life is not vacations and dining out and having the newest and the best for many. Rather, it’s about getting by and budgeting and shopping thrift stores and stretching dollars until they stretch no more. This is reality.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots seems as wide as ever. And often that distance exists not for a lack of hard work, but rather in the differing values placed on jobs. Or disparities that exist due to greed. Or a lack of appreciation for the knowledge and skills of hands-on laborers, especially, versus white collar workers.
The pandemic, too, has challenged the work force in ways we’ve never experienced. I feel, especially, for those who work in healthcare (namely hospitals), who are overwhelmed by the stress and pressures of caring for COVID patients. I can only imagine how disheartened they feel as cases surge, when it didn’t need to be this way. I can only image how disheartened they feel when dying patients and their families continue to deny the realities of this deadly virus.
I am grateful for all those “essential workers” who continued to go to work when others could stay home and work from the safety of their home offices. Workers like my husband, an automotive machinist. Workers like my cousin, a grocery store cashier. Workers like another cousin, a nurse. Workers like my second daughter, who lost her job as a contract Spanish medical interpreter early in the pandemic and now works as a full-time letter carrier.
I appreciate, too, the creatives who continue to create during the pandemic. The writers. The artists. The poets. The photographers. The musicians. I think, in the midst of lockdowns and lack of direct access to the arts, we began to understand the value of the arts to our mental health. Art heals. Art provides an escape. Art encourages and uplifts. We need art.
And so this Labor Day, my gratitude for the workforce runs high. But I’m also grateful for the unpaid workers—the volunteers—who serve with compassion and care. They, too, labor, giving from their hearts and souls to help their communities.
I value workers. Paid. And unpaid. Thank you for all you do to make this world a better place.
I remember well the shocking headline in the local newspaper: Faribault pastor dies from COVID-19 complications. That singular head and the story that followed shook me and imprinted upon me the seriousness of this virus. This was no longer a virus an ocean away or half a country away in New York. This was here. In Minnesota. In my county. In my community.
MORE THANNUMBERS, THESE WERE INDIVIDUALS WHO LOVED & WERE LOVED
Now more than ever with the highly-contagious and more serious delta variant, we need to care. And take care. Breimhorst’s online obituary ends with this requirement: Everyone not vaccinated of all ages are requested to wear a mask (at the funeral). Among Rice County residents ages 12 and older, 60.7 percent are fully-vaccinated, according to data listed by the Centers for Disease Control. Additional stats show 52.3 percent of the county’s population fully-vaccinated. That leaves a lot of unvaccinated people in Rice County. Too many by choice. And then those under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination and have no choice.
PLEASE, WEAR A FACE MASK
Rice County remains in the high community transmission category for COVID. And that is leading our local school district to rethink its “no masks when school starts” stand of just a few weeks ago. The Faribault School Board will vote soon on whether to require masks of staff and students when classes resume. We, as a community, owe it to our kids to protect them, to offer the safest and healthiest environment possible in which to learn. I cannot even fathom why anyone would object to masks to protect our children, especially. But then I can’t fathom either why people refuse vaccination.
A recent article in the Faribault Daily News quotes local student representatives saying that students feel wearing masks “is a small request…if it means staying in school in person.” Additionally, those reps state that vaccine hesitancy “seems to come from parents more than students themselves.” That doesn’t surprise me. Even though I don’t have kids in school, I still care about kids in Faribault.
I feel thankful for businesses, churches and others who are now asking, even requiring, the public (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) to wear face masks in an effort to stop the spread of COVID. Rice County is once again requiring face coverings to be worn in all county government buildings. And, yes, I’m definitely masking in indoor public places, adding another layer of protection to my vaccine protection. I don’t want to get a break-through case of COVID and then perhaps unknowingly spread COVID to my friends, family, neighbors or strangers. I feel a strong sense of personal, social and community responsibility.
I would like to think that I am also honoring the Rev. Craig Breimhorst by masking. A line in his obit reads: With Craig, love always won and love will always win. Those are words to ponder, to take to heart as this pandemic rages, to remember that love is more than a word. It is an action.
NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine or anti-masking, please do not comment. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to those views on this, my personal blog.My stands on wearing face masks and vaccination are rooted in care. And in love.
PHLOX IN VIBRANT SHADES of purple and pink, interspersed with occasional white blossoms, fill my flowerbeds. They thrive, their fragrance scenting the air that drifts through my office window.
Occasionally I spot butterflies flitting among the phlox, random milkweeds, wild orange tiger lilies, ferns and other unidentified plants growing in a tangled mess of wildness. I love watching them—the monarchs and the swallowtails—their wings flapping with such incredible grace. They swoop and dip and pause. As if dancing. As if performing. As if penning poetry.
Moments like this imprint upon me the importance of pausing to appreciate the beauty of nature. The details of a flower petal. The curve of a butterfly wing. The bend of a milkweed pod.
Now, more than ever, I need this connection to nature, these moments to reset. To see that, even as a pandemic rages, flowers still bloom and butterflies still fly.
AS I WRITE THIS EARLY WEDNESDAY afternoon, the civil defense siren blares. There’s no emergency, just a monthly routine testing of the system.
This time of day, after lunch, my energy dips. The wail of the siren interrupted my dozing off in the recliner while reading a book. It’s not often I fall asleep during the day, which is revealing in itself. I am tired because I’m not sleeping well. Lots on my mind. I tend to overthink. To ruminate. Uncertainty stresses me.
We’re all different personalities, different in the ways we handle whatever life throws at us. And that’s OK. Some of us are early risers, work best in the morning people while others are evening/night people. Nothing right or wrong about either. I’m up early, focusing on mental tasks in the morning.
Shortly I’m heading outside to pull crabgrass, a job I started last evening and which I found incredibly satisfying, even if labor intensive and sometimes difficult. To dislodge those strong roots from the soil and then toss the clump empowered me. I felt like I was ridding our yard of an unwanted invader. And I was.
Since the digging of our yard and replacement of a water line in June, the crabgrass has had plenty of time to take hold. I was happy just to see green again rather than bare earth as we await the right time to sod or seed in this drought. Randy informed me that the crabgrass needs to go. He wants to use chemicals. I don’t. Thus I am willing to pull weeds, although, in the end, he may still need to apply a weedkiller.
This isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, but about eventually solving a problem. About different approaches. About trying and evaluating. And, for me, about satisfaction that comes from doing something with my hands. Touching the soil. Reconnecting with the land. Remembering all the summers I pulled weeds from the family garden and cockleburrs and thistles from my dad’s soybean fields. We didn’t use chemicals back then to eradicate weeds.
But farming has changed. The world has changed. Life has changed. Yet, the satisfaction of pulling weeds by hand has not changed. Not for me.
ON PAGES 444 and 445 of my 2003 Webster’s New World Thesaurus, I read synonyms for the word together. (Jointly) collectively, unitedly, commonly…
Clearly, together means everyone working toward a common goal/purpose for the good of all.
Many times people have come together, especially during disasters, to help others. I recall when my second daughter traveled twice to New Orleans to help with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. Recently, rescuers worked tirelessly to find victims and survivors following the collapse of a condo in Surfside, Florida. Locally, folks are providing financial support for a professional juggler who broke both wrists after falling from a ladder during a performance.
These examples of togetherness, rooted in genuine care for others, encourage me. They give me hope. They uplift me.
DISHEARTENED & FRUSTRATED
As I reflect further, though, I grow disheartened. Disheartened because, as much as the “We’re all in this together” motto defines many official/marketing statements about COVID-19, I don’t feel it. I don’t see it. I don’t experience it. Perhaps it’s time for public health officials and others to ditch the word together as it relates to this global pandemic.
Like many, I feel such frustration that COVID is now back full force in the much more contagious and deadly delta variant. This didn’t need to happen…if only people would get vaccinated. I’m thankful to read that vaccination rates are rising. I hope that continues.
Now some retailers, colleges, entertainment venues and more in Minnesota are embracing those CDC guidelines and reinstating masking. For that I feel great gratitude.
My healthcare provider has also joined a growing number of providers requiring vaccination of all employees. Finally. I have never understood how anyone in the medical profession (and that includes those working in long-term care and assisted living) can, ethically or morally, continue to care for patients/residents while unvaccinated. And, looking at it from a patient perspective, I don’t want an unvaccinated nurse/doctor/lab tech/whoever near me, even if I am vaccinated.
WHAT HAPPENED TO KEEPING STUDENTS SAFE?
That brings me to education. I really struggle with preschool-high schools that are not requiring students and staff to wear face masks going into the new school year. I fail to understand that thinking. Our public health officials tell us that masking is one very basic, and easy, way to help stop the spread of COVID. My concern focuses primarily on those under age 12, who can’t yet be vaccinated. Schools owe it to children, like my 5-year-old granddaughter, to implement the strongest health and safety protocols possible. Teachers fought last year for the best protection for themselves, and rightly so. Protecting our kids is equally as important.
When I hear people say, “Well, just keep your child home or send them to school in a mask,” I cringe. Most parents want their kids in the classroom. And putting the burden of protecting himself/herself on a young child seems pretty selfish and childish behavior on the part of adults. Most kids prefer to “fit it” with their peers. A parent may send their child to school with the directive to “wear your mask.” But we all know that doesn’t mean they will, especially if masking is optional and their classmates are mask-less.
Where’s the compassion, the care, the willingness to provide access to education for all in a safe school environment? It’s best, from a health and safety perspective, to require (rather than recommend) face masks in schools for everyone.
So, yeah, I’m not seeing much togetherness during this global pandemic. I’m disheartened. I’m disappointed. And, yes, I’m even angry. I feel like, just as we were making progress in ending the pandemic, we are now back to START, farther than ever from the FINISH LINE. I’m beyond frustrated. (Just like Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.)
That all said, we can decide, right now, to work together. to mask up, to get vaccinated, to make choices that protect ourselves and each other. To end this pandemic sooner rather than later.
NOTE: I welcome readers’ comments. However, if you are anti-vaccine or anti-mask, I will not give voice to those viewpoints on this, my personal blog. As always, with any posts, I screen/moderate comments and determine which I will, or won’t, publish.
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.
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.
PERSPECTIVE DOESN’T DIMINISH challenges in life. Rather, perspective helps one to assess, to consider, to reshape thoughts.
On Thursday, the word “perspective” edged to the top of my mind upon learning about the collapse of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida. Suddenly what Randy and I experienced this week doesn’t seem all that bad. Minor, really, in comparison to the loss of life and home in Florida.
As I write this, four people are confirmed dead with 159 missing. And then there are the injured and those who are now without a home. It’s a lot of loss. A lot of grief and pain and heartache and stress beyond comprehension.
When I view the rubble of the high-rise, I think of the fallen World Trade Center towers and of the I-35 bridge collapse. The visuals from Florida imprint the immensity of the catastrophe. Media reports, especially interviews with loved ones of the missing, cause an emotional reaction which leaves me in tears, feeling deeply saddened. My heart breaks at the humanity of it all—the deaths of loved ones in such a sudden and awful way.
As six industrial-sized fans and a dehumidifier roar in our basement, I focus on perspective. I see those media reports featuring search and rescue teams, eye witnesses, family members, government officials and others at the site of the Florida tragedy. I also hear the repeated word, “hope.” Hope rises, even when it seems futile.
But, like perspective and resilience, we need hope. Especially now in Florida.
AS THE BAND PLAYED, as the scent of gyros wafted in the breeze, as the summer day drew to a close in Central Park during Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration, I engaged in a conversation that left me frustrated. The subject: COVID-19 vaccination.
For some 10 minutes, an acquaintance and I discussed the vaccine, specifically his refusal to get vaccinated. I tried to be respectful as I listened to his belief that COVID is no worse than the flu and his assessment that, if he gets the virus, he expects a mild case. He’s around my age, in his 60s. I politely disagreed with his assessment of COVID and stated no one really knows how their body will react to the virus. In our county of Rice 110 people, ranging in age from 24 to 104, have died from COVID.
I shared stories about those, with a connection to Randy and me, who have died of COVID. Those deaths didn’t seem to matter. He acknowledged hearing my concerns, but remained unswayed.
“PARANOID” VS. CAUTIOUS & CARING
When he called his co-workers at a local factory “paranoid” about COVID, I felt myself losing patience. There’s nothing paranoid about concern, about taking precautions, about preventing the spread of a potentially deadly virus. There’s nothing paranoid about caring for your own health and the health of humanity by choosing vaccination.
In hindsight, had I known I would have this conversation, I would have taken a different approach—emphasizing that the decision whether to get vaccinated or not stretches beyond our individual selves to our families, friends, neighbors, and yes, even our co-workers. Even to strangers.
My acquaintance, while seemingly unconcerned about his own health, should feel a sense of responsibility to his community. I wonder how he would feel if he exposed someone to COVID and that person died or suffered long-term health issues. I would struggle with guilt.
I DON’T UNDERSTAND
Not only do I struggle with my acquaintance’s refusal to get vaccinated, but I really struggle with those employed in healthcare settings who are refusing vaccination. At my local hospital, about 37% percent of staff remains unvaccinated, according to a recent story in the Faribault Daily News. They are putting patients at risk by that choice. The same goes for those who work with our elderly and most vulnerable in long-term care centers. Where is the sense of care for others, of respecting science, of maintaining health in a place devoted to health?
GRATITUDE MIXED WITH ONGOING CONCERN
To those of you who have chosen vaccination, thank you. Thank you for protecting yourselves, those you love and the broader community. Because of your choice, we are seeing a significant drop in COVID cases. Vaccines are working. That decline doesn’t apply everywhere, though. In states like Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, where vaccination rates are especially low, COVID cases are still prevalent, according to media reports. And the highly-contagious Delta variant is quickly spreading, accounting for 20% of new COVID cases in the U.S. This pandemic isn’t over yet and I’m concerned for those who aren’t getting, or can’t yet be, vaccinated. Like my acquaintance. And my young grandchildren. And others I know who refuse to trust and accept that vaccines work.
DESPERATE TO BE VACCINATED
In closing, I want to share one final story. A friend’s son and his family are flying from their home in Brazil to Minnesota to get vaccinated. Vaccination is many months away for them in a country hit especially hard by COVID. Their oldest daughter, who has Downs Syndrome and thus is especially vulnerable to the virus, is their primary concern. Think about that for a moment. We can’t give away vaccines in this country. People are refusing them. And here we have a family of four flying some 5,000 miles to get vaccinated. They trust the science. They want to protect themselves. They understand that COVID-19 can be worse than the flu. They are part of our global family and I feel thankful that they are choosing vaccination.
If you are not yet vaccinated, please get vaccinated. Your decision is about more than you. It’s about all of us. Your family. Your friends. Your neighbors. Your co-workers. Your community. Your world.