Saturday, June 25, 2016


Comes with doors and a plow

It's a sad day when a man resorts to using his blog for commercial purposes, but I need the money. Two years ago I bought an all terrain vehicle, a Polaris Ranger 570. There's room enough in the front for an adult and two grandchildren. That was the fantasy. We have lived the fantasy and the Ranger sits in the garage, mostly unused. I imagined I would use my Ranger for jobs around the place, or that I would drive it over to my friend Steve's for coffee. But my pickup can do any chore the Ranger can, and it's much more comfortable to drive my car to Steve's.
  So after two years I've decided to cash in my investment. Steve put an ad on the employee website at the Polaris factory and I've been running an ad in the local shopper paper. A couple of people called but they were looking for a model that carries three adults.  I'm not desperate but I do need to advertise more widely. Just this weekend a neighbor who lives along the highway offered to let me put the Ranger in her front yard. Hundreds of cars pass by each day. And then there's this blog. I know of one person who checks daily to see if there's anything new, but he doesn't need a Ranger. I should put a link to my blog on my Facebook page. I have over a hundred friends, only a handful of whom are zombies.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bare Ruined Choirs

  Yesterday Teresa and I took her dad to a Swedish Midsummer festival held in an old Lutheran Church out in the country east of Kennedy. I usually weasel my way out of these events, but it was Teresa's birthday so I offered to go along. We picked up Einar at noon in Roseau and headed west.
It was cool, windy and rainy. Teresa was sipping coffee and halfway there said, "I suppose I'll have to use an outdoor outhouse." 
  We arrived about twenty minutes early. I noticed the church bell was sitting on the ground by the steps. Those things are heavy and it's good to take them down before they fall down. Inside the entry, a steady stream of water was pouring down from the steeple into a hole in the partially rotted floorboards.
"Do you have a bathroom?" Teresa asked the guy who appeared to be in charge.
"An outhouse?"
"What do you recommend?"
"You can use the church in Halma."
"Is that the church we passed?"
"I don't know."
"We came through Halma."
"Then that's it."
  We got Einar settled and drove the six miles to Halma. We got back to the church at 2:05.
"We haven't missed much," Teresa said. Indeed. For the next hour, we stood around and watched four people make two big wreaths out of daisies, yellow clover, peonies." These wreaths were to be hung on the maypole that would be erected outside, if the rain ever quit. The maypole is a symbol of the new growth of summer. To me it had phallic overtones, but Wiki said no. To Germanic peoples it's just a symbol of vegetative growth. It was other peoples that dragged in the phallic overtones.
  The festival was sponsored by the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society, average age of its members: 82. I mingled with the festival goers. It was cold and damp in the church and I was tempted to sneak a cup of coffee from the kitchen, but was told the coffee was for lunch after the maypole was raised.
I knew a few of my fellow festival goers. There was old Eddie, wearing a Trump button. I let it go since Hill has Minn in the bag. The festival is held in a different location each year. The folks trying to preserve the church had offered their venue to collect the free-will offering to defray church related expenses.
  Finally the wreaths were done, but it was still raining. We all sat in the nave and sang songs in Swedish and gradually in English, accompanied by a mandolin. The church seemed basically sound, but age is creeping in at the edges. The society president announced that the rain had quit and called five young men to set up the maypole in front of the church. I, at age 69, was tapped to help. The maypole was basically a 20 foot mast with a crosstree with hooks at the ends for hanging the wreaths. We stood the pole up and the president slipped a Christmas tree stand under the base. On a perfectly calm day this setup might have worked, but the wind was gusting at 25 knots. A wreath blew off. We lowered the pole and rehung it. Someone ordered us to move the pole close to the church where he would tie it to the railing. He had a whole box of baler twine I noted. As we moved the pole, the other wreath fell of. These wreaths were well made, because they held their shape despite this rough handling. As we lowered and raised the pole I was relieved that no society members were bonked on the head.
  At last the pole was secured to the railing. Traditionally, you're supposed to dance around the pole while someone plays a fiddle or mandolin. This would have been awkward enough with the pole tied to the front steps of the church, even if we had been disposed to dance. No, we wanted our ration of coffee and traditional Swedish baked goods.
  In the dining room the hot coffee seemed to make everything jollier. On one wall hung one of those big, many-paged picture albums common in Lutheran churches. Unfortunately 90% of the pictures had been removed. However, there were newspaper clippings describing the 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries of the church. I learned that the church had been built on 10 acres donated by the Great Northern Railroad in the 1800s. By 1964 the church had to close due to waning membership.  A handful of weddings and funerals were held into the seventies. Now, except for the wind, the old church stands silent from one season to the next. The people who have childhood memories of the place are now in their 60s so the church could linger on another twenty years or so. But one day the wind will take it, or fire, and that will be that.

                                   A rare bit of prairie that's never been plowed

                                                 There will be lunch. 

                                             Time consumes all things.

Monday, June 20, 2016

"I Was Attacked by a Rabid Woodchuck!"

  A couple of weeks ago Teresa went out to her father's isolated farm after work to plant some broccoli in the garden there. Einar lives in town now, but likes to plant a few things every spring.
  Teresa: "I was still in my work clothes but fortunately had switched into my sneakers in the car. As I got to within ten feet of the garden I noticed a woodchuck at the far edge. I clapped my hands and yelled at him but he didn't move. Woodchucks usually run away, but this one started running right at me. All I had with me was a small trowel and the broccoli plants. There was a metal tomato cage with three flimsy legs on the ground so I grabbed that and swiped at the woodchuck. He rolled over but came at me again. I couldn't get to my car. He would have caught me, so I kept swiping and tumbling him over. When he paused for a few seconds, I ran onto the porch. I could try to get the hidden house key but what good would that do? The phone was disconnected.
  "The woodchuck came charging up the two steps to the porch. I swiped again and flipped him into a flower box. He landed on his back. I used the cage to flip him out onto the lawn. By the way, I was screaming as loud as I could hoping to scare off the woodchuck or attract the neighbor's attention. The neighbor farms the land and I saw his pickup by the shed. But then I heard his tractor and knew he wouldn't hear me.
  "By now the woodchuck seemed dazed and was wandering off towards the garage. 'Oh, crap', I thought. I had left the entry door to the garage open and he was headed that way. I ran after him and he veered off into the woods.  My chest hurt from screaming and I felt traumatized. I left the broccoli at the farm for someone else to plant and called my brother-in-law to come and shoot the thing."
  Chairman Joe hearby awards Teresa the Courage Medal for standing up to the presumed rabid woodchuck. When she got home that day, still distraught from her ordeal she said, "If I had a Zanax right now, I'd take it." She had to settle for a glass of wine and a hug. She had also acquired a good story.

Postscript. The man who mows at the farm was warned of the woodchuck, and the next day put it out of its misery. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stillwater Jail

I am a bonded highwayman, Cole Younger is my name
Through many a temptation I led my friends to shame
For the robbing of the Northfield Bank they say I can't deny
And now I am a poor prisoner, in Stillwater Jail I lie

~~The James and Younger Boys

  The song goes on to tell the story of the James and Younger gang making its way to "the godforsaken country called Minne-so-teo."  The folks back home in Missouri looked upon the gang as modern day Robin Hoods. The Swedes up north hadn't heard about that and fought back. Cole Younger was badly wounded.  Frank and Jesse James split up from the others and got away. Jesse later came to a bad end. Frank moved to Arkansas and raised rabbits. A posse caught up with the three Younger brothers and shot them up pretty good without killing them. Next stop, Stillwater Jail or Prison, as it was officially called.
  When I moved to Minnesota forty years ago, I wanted to visit the place the Youngers had been imprisoned but figured the old prison would have been long since demolished. Last winter I was in Stillwater and tried to figure out exactly where in town the prison had stood. Indeed the original prison was gone, but the warden's house on Main Street just north of downtown was still standing. It's now the headquarters of the Washington County Historical Society. Unfortunately, the place is closed in winter.
  I was  in Stillwater just last week and took my two grandsons Sam (11) and Luke (9) on a tour of the warden's house. A sprightly young man told us we were just in time for the next tour. Our guide told us that the two story limestone house was built next to the new state prison in 1853, five years before Minnesota became a state. When the new prison was built in South Stillwater in 1914, the warden took all his furniture with him so everything now in the house came from donations.  The museum attempts to chart the history of Washington County, not just the history of the prison
  Our guide kept the boys' attention during the 45 minute tour by asking them  engaging questions and telling corny jokes. Did you know the pop-up toaster was invented in Stillwater? Yes, in 1921. The original model was right there before us. A heavy-duty appliance intended for restaurant use. "It still works," our guide said. The good thing about having a guide is that you don't have to read all the index cards, plus there are jokes.
  We learned about the great timber boom of the nineteenth century. Logs were floated down the river and sawed up in Stillwater's mills. The trees were gone by the turn of the twentieth century and Stillwater lost half her population over the next forty years. It took another 40 years for the town to recover.
  The highlight of the tour was the room devoted to the prison. There weren't many prisoners in the early days, but newspaper reports of the day complain about prisoners being able to escape at will.  There were always factories in the prison, the warden getting a share of the profits from prison labor. A later warden allowed prisoners' wives to spend the night. There was also a restaurant and a friendly prostitute in residence. This warden lasted less than a year.
  The Younger brothers Cole, Bob, and Jim arrived in Stillwater after their trial in 1876. They had been sentenced to life imprisonment. One wall in the "prison room" has two large photographs of the Youngers. In the first, taken just after their capture, they look terrible, perforated as they were by bullets. In the other picture taken a few years later, they're wearing suits and look like leading citizens. Bob was close to death from tuberculosis and the warden has allowed the brothers to go uptown to have their portrait made.
  Cole and Bob were paroled in 1901. Bob killed himself a year later. Cole was given a pardon on condition that he leave Minnesota and that he not make a profit from his notoriety. Well it was just too tempting. He was a celebrity after all, and went on to have a successful career as an author, lecturer, and performer in a Wild West Show. However, he did manage to stay away from Minne-so-teo.

                                        Sam and Luke in front of the Warden's House.