Tuesday, March 16, 2004


Tomorrow I leave for a week in Alexandria, Minnesota. I return on Wednesday, March 24th. Alexandria is 399 miles or 6 hours and 51 minutes from Fairwater. I've been there twice before, once in the very bitter cold of January, 2003; then again in May last year.

Alexandria is like L'Anse, Michigan, in that its economy is bolstered by tourism. Unlike L'Anse, it stands just off an interstate highway (I-94); the interstate highway these days is to the middlewestern community what the railroad used to be: a life-line that helps ensure survival. Of course, you've got to get the folks passing by on the interstate to stop and spend some money in the community, and Alexandria is moderately successful at that.

While I am in Alexandria, I will revisit my friend Floyd Bolin. Floyd is in his nineties, and has moved into a nursing home since we talked last May. He is quite an inventive fellow and built and operated the first dairy in Alexandria to offer pasteurized milk that was palatable; that was his business for most of his life.

People had told me that Floyd was going deaf, that when I talked to him on the phone or left him a message on his answering machine, I'd have to shout.

I knew I'd like Floyd right away from the first moment I met him. I was scheduled to interview him at his house at 4:00 p.m. As is usually the case with me, I arrived a few minutes early. I knocked on the outer door of the porch - no answer. I stepped into the porch and knocked on the door frame of the inner door. The door into the house was open. No answer. I stepped into the house a few steps and through the doorway into the living room I could see Floyd napping in his recliner, eyes closed. The chair was tipped all the way back, Floyd had a blanket spread across his legs, he was holding an alarm clock on his lap.

"Floyd," I shouted, "may I come in?"

"Oh, oh," Floyd said, coming awake. He picked up his alarm and looked at it. He looked at me.

"My alarm hasn't gone off," he said, "you'll have to come back in a few minutes." Then he laughed that laugh of his.

I spent an hour with him that afternoon, interviewing, and found out that an hour wasn't near enough time. I spent another two hours with him a few days later.

When I visit Floyd this trip, it won't be to interview him; rather, a friend will be visiting a friend. That's one of the surprises and one of the joys of this Vagabond expedition: what starts out as research looks an awful lot like friendship before it's done. It happens again and again.



Why does a place tug at us? The comfort it provides, spiritual and physical. It can be home for us, where we choose to live and grow. Its rhythms fit us. We have family and friends there - we cannot leave them. It becomes our image of the blessed world. We cannot leave because we are chained to it. What the land is fits what we wish to be.

We are shaped by a place, some place that chooses us. It becomes for us the image of what the world is and how it should be.

Our sense of place is shaped by our sense of who we are. Our sense of who we are is shaped by our sense of place.

The bias of those of us who live in the north: that what we endure in the place makes us stronger. The bias of those who live in the south: the world is languorous fruit.

What pushes us makes us great. The bitterness of winter is a spiritual pill we swallow here in the north. The swarmy, humid tropical nights are another kind of medicine.

We cannot see a place as it is. It changes with our coming to view it. We bend the grass. Our feet pound a path. The sound of us echoes and echoes and echoes. Animals flee, the birds go quiet. There are human footprints, still, on the moon. The tracks of the wagon trains that headed west well more than a century ago can still be seen today.

Topic for future discussion: What kinds of relationships can we have with a place and what is the nature of each of those relationships?



(501 W. Third #12, Smith Center, KS 66967)

You might be pleased to hear that Ivan has given up turnips for Lent.

"I was in the soup aisle at an area grocery store," Ivan also says. "I was looking for a can of soup. I saw a can of bean soup and a can of hearty bean soup. I saw a clerk heading my way so I said, 'what's the difference between bean soup and hearty bean soup?' She said, as she went past without breaking stride, 'hearty is more farty.'"

"Last Wednesday, I kinda got my feelings hurt," Ivan writes. "I was in the Second Cup cafe with Jim Fetters, John Windscheffell, Dick Stroup, Raymond Osborn, Casey Edell, and Dr. Bill Grimes. In the course of the conversation I got the impression that they thought I was lying. And it hurt. But later that day I was in a contemplating mood and I contemplated that they weren't calling me a liar, they were just saying I didn't know what I was talking about."

"You remember the story about Colleen Maydew's wheel falling off her car," Ivan says. "The hub cap off that wheel is now on display at Murphy Auto Repair and Service. It is now hanging in a prominent place on the hub cap Wall of Fame in Murphy's."



My thanks goes out to the following for her recent contribution to the Vagabond Expedition:
#87 Elaine Cavanaugh, Wisconsin

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