Aug 07

Black Rain

Rainy day games with friends Gretel and Charlie

Fun and games as we wait for Noah to give us the thumbs up

WE PEER THROUGH THE STROBE LIGHT flashes that all but obliterate the road and terrain ahead of us. High beam. Low beam. High beam. Family including dog huddled in their seats. Soaking wet. Not shivering. It is summer. Defroster on high. Windshield wipers crossing furiously to wipe away the waterfall that is crashing onto our station wagon. Water on the road! Too late, we are in it. Parting it like Charleton Heston holding up his staff (or is that a rifle?). Is there pavement beneath this rippling highway?

The second time through the water we see there is more out ahead and turn off into a tiny town asleep to what is yet to come. A fully equipped fire station. Brightly lit. Engines at the ready. Boots just beneath the pole. Radio crackling in the next room. Firefighters asleep waiting for the alarm: 4000 homes are inundated by biblical floods. Continue reading “Black Rain” »

Aug 07

Hushed silence

A Week and two days has passed now and today the remains of three of the missing are recovered. Navy and FBI divers are helping out. So Dylan and Kinzy and I, having an errand in Minneapolis, cross the river on the Third Avenue Bridge and make our way to Second Street just north of the collapse site. The crowds are not what they have been. Still, there are thousands. The Minneapolis Parks & Rec department has installed a dozen biffy’s. Trash cans overflow. The already dry grass is pounded into dust like the midway at a circus or the Minnesota State Fair. The police peremiter is established. City police officers and county sheriff’s deputies are standing under little white tents. Some workers at a steel milling plant watch us impassively from a large doorway as we come and go.

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James Hill’s Stone Arch Bridge, a grand curving railroad entrance to downtown Minneapolis now is a pedestrian and bike way. It has a spectacular view of downtown Minneapolis and the St. Anthony Falls, now nearly dried up in the drought. But all eyes are turned downriver. What we can see is the 10th Avenue Bridge. It is quite beautiful and it should be a delight to behold except that we’re not supposed to be able to see it.

THE DISASTER SITE PHENOMENA is as described in the news: large crowd of people so quiet I can hear the wind blowing across the river and the faint sound of Continue reading “Hushed silence” »

Aug 07

Getting at the story with a little narrow notebook

They did not stand on the banks with microphone in hand jamming it into the face of an eyewitness: “Did you see any dead bodies?” Most of them have no fancy electronic gear. No cameras. No whirlygigs spinning around on their beanie hats.

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They come equipped with the same narrow white spiral bound notebook that I used 30 years ago during my brief journalism career during a decidedly lower tech time. They write their notes on both sides of each sheet and with that capture history one mental snapshot at a time.   Continue reading “Getting at the story with a little narrow notebook” »

Aug 07

A letter to Minnesota Sen Amy Klobuchar

Dear Sen. Klobuchar:  It’s not as sexy as a new baseball stadium or as macho as a new war in the Middle East. It’s no the kind of thing that has a constituency. No lobbyists. Only a few nerdy civil engineers writing report cards from dusty hidden offices. No one gets on a bus to Washington, DC, to demand that the government DO something to ensure that our nation’s bridges, water systems, steam service lines and power grid are up to modern standards. Not until yesterday. Continue reading “A letter to Minnesota Sen Amy Klobuchar” »

Aug 07

Bridge in Troubled Waters

We’re not in the natural disaster business here in the center of the country. We don’t have either of the oceans at our doorstep. There is no large lake on which a large ship can sink in a withering storm. We have tornadoes that barely warrant mention, occasionally mussing our hair a bit but not doing much more. Rain comes our way and Dave Dahl runs his hand through his receding blond hair and tells us how many minutes is the storm from our zip code and block. During 9/11 authorities decided to evacuate the IDS Center, 55 stories, the tallest building in Minnesota. It seems a little silly now.  Continue reading “Bridge in Troubled Waters” »

Aug 07

Four Point Six Miles

According to Google Maps we are 4.6 miles away from the east bank anchor of the I-35W bridge. It is not a structure we use very much because the natural alternative routes are the more logical way to go. A friend called from California and was concerned about some friends who live straight south of us in Saint Paul. She hadn’t been able to reach them.  Continue reading “Four Point Six Miles” »

May 07

Primordial oak

It is May. We stop as one. Two humans and an Australian Shepherd. A small forest of oak trees. Adorned in budding bright green. Basking in a rare mist so deep. We watch for dinosaurs peeking through giant ferns. The last sun of the day makes the air around us come alive. One man and a brown dog are dancing on the sloshy grass. Leaping for a treat. The slow steady rain of the day is gone, as though heading back out to sea. And we listen for the sounds of waves breaking on a beach made of railroad cars crashing and slam banging into each other. A few children climb the damp play equipment. Watchful parents ready to dart home with their brood at the last sign of this Monday.

Apr 07

Who’s askin’ Peg?

The story is apocryphal and it matters little. It is the iconographic rememberance of Aunt Peg, always the supporting actor but one who deserves an Academy Award for her performance. “Who’s askin’ Peg?” What is the meaning of Francis “Sam” Boyce without Margaret “Peggy” Boyce? Where is the center of gravity in an extended family strewn about the eastern third of the country. It is Aunt Peg. What loss is the most devastating for a family that has little left to lose of “the Greatest Generation.” Aunt Peg.

From her hospital bed she gathers the family to her and creates connections between us. Holding court in her tiny apartment with empty refrigerator and rented furniture, she commands our attention, our devotion, even while she waits almost impatiently for the thing she fears and, maybe, welcomes.

Her wit. The dry Walsh humor unscathed by her decaying body. Unintentionally making us laugh not at her but in amazement at her observations. Her truth.

Continue reading “Who’s askin’ Peg?” »

Mar 07

Where do they go?

They smile at us through the tiny window of a paper photograph. An army of people we will never see again. Never touch again. Never hug again. Never laugh with again. Never worry about again. We will never hear their voices on the telephone. Or see them briefly as we dash through our own hectic dreary lives. We will not benefit from their wisdom or argue with them about the right thing to do. They sit there lined up on couches, arms around each other, smiling brightly at the photographer who cuts off their legs and leaves too much room above their heads. The light glints off of their glasses and they hold their pose. Forever. We think to ourselves always that we have not done enough to make their declining years more meaningful. We remember how they faced their own mortality with incredible courage and grace and we wonder whether we will measure up when our time comes. They who faced so many challenges in their lives from fighting Nazis to fighting boredom in the suburbs. Selling the old house that we had abandoned dozens of years ago and moving boldly to some new place where they would put out of their minds the nextClosing scene, Closing scene, and last big event in their lives coming someday soon.

As each one passes on we think of a hundred questions we wanted to ask. We gather at their funerals to go through a timeless cultural dance we do not understand but nonetheless pursue with dogged determination. And then it is over. We go home. Look at our photographs and see one new face staring back at us.

Jun 06

Northcountry June

Hazy sky filters through raspberry swaying oaks. The next door kids climb the maple tree and look down upon my Australian Shepherd seeking solace under the oversized pagoda dogwood in our backyard. My children. Adults now. Laze under stacks of books and sometimes emerge, blinking into the real sun of a young summer month. Standing in my backyard I call my dog into the house and she retreats further into the shadows. Too easily, I give up and marvel that I am outside, wearing shorts. Wind blowing through my hairy legs. The high temperature today is 80.

As the earth careens on its desperately short trip around €“ and tilted slightly closer to €“ the sun, June arrives in the Northcountry. Can our summer months be shorter than other people’s and our winter months longer? Each day passes and I beg it to return. Let me try again. Let me make more of it and have different memories when I am darting between the snowflakes.

Oak canopy  Flower

Oak canopy | Summer’s gift