Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day Trips From Home

We live in northwestern Minnesota. Many consider this a remote area, but I don’t feel too out of touch knowing there’s a renowned ballet company just two hours to the north in Winnipeg.
I like this area because we’re just a day’s drive from so many interesting places. Now by a day, I mean 24 hours, and by a drive, I mean an average speed of 50 mph. This affords time to take a short nap, go to the bathroom, and refill gas tank and coffee cup. So in a day I can cover 1,200 miles which will get me to any of the following places: East: Buffalo, NY, South: Graceland, TN, West: a little east of Spokane, WA, and North: Churchill on Hudson Bay, though I’d also need a plane or a train, or a canoe.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

King of Trails

Rummage Road with Sloppy Joe

We called my sister-in-law Kathy last Friday and invited her and Pete to meet us in Grand Forks for supper, but Pete was in his woods near Park Rapids and Kathy didn't want to drive up from Moorhead on her own. Later Kathy called and told us about Market Day on Highway 75. U.S. 75 runs from the Canadian border down to the Gulf of Mexico. The 408 miles in Minnesota are designated “The Historic King of Trails” by local boosters. Kathy said the towns of Hallock, Kennedy, Stephen, Argyle, Warren and Crookston were all participating in this annual day of sales of produce, woodwork, antiques and funky junque. There might even be stands along the highway selling interesting things. The website said “Bring plenty of cash.”
We thought it over and on Saturday morning decided to head west to Highway 75. We saw one rummage sale in the town of Hallock. We stopped at Cenex for coffee. Ahead of us in line was a young couple. As we left we saw them head for separate semis. They were hauling gravel for Davidson Construction. As they separated they kissed. You don't often see truck drivers kissing. On the way out of town we saw a flashing arrow sign pointing to "Sale at Senior Center." Teresa bought a small knitted rug, otherwise it was a collection of other people's dishes and clothing. Who wants a mug that says “Flon Family Reunion” other than a Flon?
That was it for Hallock. There were no funky junque stands along the road, just endless soybean vistas and the railroad track. The little town of Kennedy had nothing. We drove around the half dozen residential streets. This is our friend Maude's home town and we had called before we left home to see if she was going to be in Kennedy but she did not pick up. We found out later she had been at a family rummage sale in town but we didn't see her. We called Kathy and she said she'd meet us in Crookston for lunch. South of Kennedy we passed a several mile long BNSF freight train moving at 15 mph. Next up was Stephen. Two rummage sales and barbeques on a bun at the Senior Center. Stephen has a nice residential area with wide parkways down the middle of the streets which curve sharply along the loops of the Tamarack River. I was beginning to lose respect for Market Day but there is really no such thing as a bad road trip and it was a gloriously beautiful day. Teresa admired the fat jet contrails in the sky.
Further south, Argyle had a rummage sale in progress. The museum in the old depot was open and we wandered around the old stuff. The depot had been moved back from the tracks in the 1980's. We heard voices from the new annex: it was sloppy joes and another rummage sale. The museum had a display of graduating classes ending in 1996 when the school merged with Stephen and the Eagles became The Storm. Luigi, a large carved Eagle, the team mascot, had been relegated to the annex. I sat at the stationmaster's bow window desk and imagined the steam locomotives coming and going. I returned to the car but Teresa called my cell. She had made it to the rummage sale in the annex. Everything was 25 cents. She bought two decks of cards and a laminated storage box. Now we could not get out of town because the train had caught up with us. We sat at the crossing admiring the boxcar graffiti. Back on the highway we passed the train again.

The town of Warren seemed to be ignoring Market Day completely. We drove around town admiring the old houses and lost 75. I thought we were on 75 but the sign said Oslo so we turned around. Son of a biscuit! The train had caught up to us, but 75 was now on the west side of the tracks so we passed the train for the third time.
We checked with Kathy. She was in an antique store in Crookston. I suggested we meet at The Irishman's Shanty. I'd never been there but they've had an ad in the diocesan newspaper forever. It's a tiny ad with a tipsy leprechaun promising fine food and cocktails. The guy at the antique store told Kathy the place was on the south side of town. We passed through town and kept going south. I was about to turn around thinking we had missed the place when I spotted the telltale shamrock. The antique guy told Kathy the place had a pub atmosphere, but it was faux pub. We entered through the bar and met the backs of the serious drinkers. On tap were Bud, Bud Lite, and Amber Bock, though they did have Guinness in a can. They were practically giving away bottles of wine, only charging a buck above liquor store prices, so we got a nice bottle of Liebfraumilch in a bucket of ice. The burgers were large with generous helpings of potatoes. Sadly, the atmosphere was old supper club. They should charge more for wine and give the place a makeover. On the way to the bathrooms I glimpsed a large gloomy family gathering in a back room. I wanted to order them a bucket of wine, but to my shame did not. Teresa said to cross The Shanty off my bucket list...forever.
The city of Crookston also seems in need of a makeover. with it's shuttered old cathedral looming over downtown. We visited three antique stores, all devoid of customers. Rents must be low here. In one of the shops I bought a guide book to Rome published during the Mussolini administration. It was in Italian and German. Only one dollar. We visited a tiny Latino grocery on Broadway. The sign said 'sweet bread," but the woman told us the truck had not come this a.m. so we settled for some spicy puff balls.
We said goodby to Kathy and I started on a long siesta as we peeled away from The King of Trails.

September 10, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Thorns of Prince Head

An incident from the eighties

We made an oddly assorted crew that day. My father was captain and crew was whoever was around and wanted to go for a sail in the 28’ ketch Nave Sho. My sister MaryJo was along as well as our brother Steve’s two older kids Brendan and Faith, both under thirteen at the time.
It was a fine afternoon and the wind was light so we wouldn’t be going too far, but we towed the tender behind which meant we could land on an island if we pleased. We sailed past Bumpkin Island and made our way across Hingham Bay towards Peddocks. On the chart Peddocks Island looks like a one legged ant, the single leg being Prince Head, which is attached to the main island by a narrow spit of tide-wracked stones and seagull feathers. The further end of the head is a low drumlin, a quarter mile long and 150 feet across. This drumlin or glacial hill slopes gently on its ends but its sides have eroded over the millennia, exposing ribbed cliffs of pale yellow clay.
We dropped anchor in the lee of Prince Head and ate lunch. Though we were within a 10 mile radius of millions, we could just as well have been way up in Maine for the remoteness felt there. Dad said he was going to rest his eyes awhile so the rest of us rowed ashore. “Let’s climb the cliff,” someone suggested. The cliff sides were steep but climbable. As we went up, the stone studded clay tended to crumble away under our feet. MaryJo and I each got behind a kid and pushed them up. It was fun going. There was a thick ridge of grass overhanging the top and we pulled on this to get ourselves onto the top. The top was a jungle of tall sumac trees and black raspberry bushes. The berries were ripe and delicious and we all ate our fill. We returned to the edge but the prospect now was forbidding. I tried hanging over the edge and my feet dislodged clay and small stones which clattered on the boulders twenty feet below. I might be able to slither down without killing myself but what about the others?
I pulled myself back up and said, “Let’s walk down the end of the island.” We headed the way I thought would be shorter. The blackberry brambles tore at us and I was the only one wearing long pants. “Let’s try the other way.” But only a rabbit could have navigated that tangle of brambles and sumac. We turned back the other way again. I looked down the cliff once more and out at the boat rocking dad asleep.
“We can’t go down the cliff,” I said. We forced our way through the not so bad patch. I stomped down the brambles to make a path and MaryJo tried to keep the thorns away from Brendan and Faith. By the time we climbed aboard the Nave Sho the blood from our scratches had dried. Dad listened to our story. “You had a little adventure while I was sleeping,” he chuckled.