IF YOU CLICK on the headline above you will learn more about two people’s fascination with human powered vehicles. In Minnesota it is none too fun to ride to work on two wheels through the muck and the splash and the cold. To say nothing of the danger of not being noticed. This is not the problem for Mary Arneson and Dale Hammerschmidt as they tool along in their brightly colored Velomobiles. They have theree of the cab versions and travel with winter held at least slightly at bay. Not long ago they took their Velomobiles out onto a frozen Lake Calhoun and created such a sensation that one of the local TV stations shot footage of them for their weather forcast. They also got a bit of ink from the Minneapolis Star Tribune when their “Flintstones cars” arrived. To learn more about traveling without aid of gasoline, contact these folks by clicking here.
We’re listening to A Prairie Home Companion on Sunday morning because the weather at 5 p.m. on Saturday was too sunny and too warm to be anywhere but on the narrow seat of a mountain bike riding carefully through giant puddles on the bike path in Como Park. Today is still pretty warm — 38 degrees — by Minnesota February standards. But yesterday it was, like, 59 and I swear it was 70 by our south facing back door where I was repairing a crumbling concrete step.
WE’VE BEEN LISTENING to A Prairie Home Companion for a much longer time than we’ve been living in Minnesota. I recall that my sister told us about it one day we were visiting Philadelphia and about to hop onto the then partially finished I-476 (Blue Route) beltway as we drove toward a bleary orange early spring Eastern sunset. She told us about the tall, thin, handsome cowboy who told folksy stories about life in the west (what Minnesota is to people who live in the shadow of Billy Penn’s hat). Thus began a long but intermittant habit of tuning in on Saturday afternoons. Driving from Lewiston up to Spokane. Coming into Missoula from the top of Lolo Pass. Chilling by the pool at our apartment complex in Topeka. A thread tying us to this mysterious, hilarious place called Minnesota populated by humorless Norwegians and Swedes who, suffering the tender mercies of Garrison Keillor, are very funny.
Now we live in St. Paul so close to tiny Exchange Street that it is within the realm of possibility to decide we want see the show in person and be in line for $10 rush tickets 15 minutes later. But there are some disadvantages. We now know things we might wish we did not. Some examples follow: 1) Garrison Keillor is tall but he is not thin and, he would be the first to admit, is not handsome; 2) Sarah Bellum, Sandy Beach, Angio Plasty and Warren Peece do not help to write the show. They’re made up names. Keillor writes the whole thing; 3) Yeah, he’s a pretty smart guy but not quite so smart as we thought. The things he says about Minnesotans … are not made up; 4) It really is as cold here as he says it is.
PHOTO Title: My home on the range
It is very hard for me to believe that anyone could look out and see in real time what is represented in this tiny photograph and call it home. And yet I have ancestors — a grandmother and some great aunts — who did just that. It was called homesteading. While their husbands were comfortably in town (Powell, Wyoming) running the Sheehy & McWilliams General Store, these tough women were spending at least a portion of their time trying to “prove up” on land that nobody would want and still doesn’t want to this day. They called it Polecat Bench. You can see it looking south from Powell. It is flat land that is raised up above the rest of the area on what is called “a bench.” The rise to this land is, for the most part, quite steep. And there is NO … let me repeat that … NO water up there. No rivers. No streams. No little streams. No lakes, ponds or puddles. No water. Which means there is almost nothing anyone in the early 20th century or the early 21st century can do with it. But, somehow these dear ladies managed to do it. And the land has remained in family hands ever since.
The taxes got paid out of the proceeds of the meager rent paid by a few ranchers who ran their cattle up there (I think the ratio was one per square mile). And they were paid exploration rights some of the time by various oil and gas concerns. And there is a gas operation up there and some wells so it was always a possibility I suppose. But my grandmother and her sisters-in-law weren’t lucky in that way. What did make them lucky is that after a few fires and a depression, the men decided it might be a good idea to go back east again.
Epilogue: Now it is November 2007. I am in receipt of communications from Robert Brown of Cody, Wyoming, who has an amateur interest in documenting historical sites, one of them being the structure located on what we knew as “Nellie’s Place.” I will write more about this and request permission from Robert Brown to possibly incorporate his images. For the time being, here is a slide show of his images.
IN FEWER THAN 30 MINUTES from the time of this post, the latest in highly creative imagineering will, ironically, prevent us from seeing The West Wing. My one evening a week of blissful fantasy is invaded by the very people I am seeking to blot out of my mind, at least for one hour. Now even that refuge is denied us. I thought about stopping at NWA headquarters in Eagan to request a complimentary bushel of those little plastic lined bags one finds in the seat pocket in front of you. But I had to rush home. No time for such things. Now it is exactly 15 minutes until the English Language begins its brutalization and truth parked somewhere in the odd spot (was that P2 or P9?).