Wednesday, March 31, 2004

MARCH 21, 2004

I worked all day on my notes til about 3 p.m. and then headed into Alexandria to see Floyd Bolin as I'd promised him. No lights on at Floyd's house, no response to my repeated knocking at the door. Nobody home so far as I could tell. Darn, I'm sorry to miss seeing him again - but I suppose a fellow can't sit around all way waiting for some unreliable vagabond from Wisconsin to show up.


MARCH 22, 2004
At 7:00 p.m., as part of Alexandria's Community Education series, I made my presentation of "The Idea of the Local," reading first from the "locals" found in the newspaper of one of my focus communities. Who went to supper at Pizza Hut with Larry, to celebrate his birthday, is probably only of interest to Larry. Against that, I read excerpts from several of my essays and from my Vagabond journals, trying to show how one might take the same kinds of materials and tease out connections that will make them of interest to a far broader audience. Essentially the question is how to take "the particular" and make it "universal." Specifically I illustrated "local" in its relation to place, to people, to activities, and to relationships, while acknowledging there may still be other aspects of "local" that could be explored.

Why is "local" important? I quoted two women from Alexandria whom I've interviewed. In January of last year, I talked to Minnie Osterholt, who told me: "I look out the window here. I see a hill. I know it might be a man-made hill. I see the woods behind it. This feels like home."

This past Friday I asked Tara Bitzen what it would take to get her to move from the farm that has been her in family now for three generations, which she and her husband own.

Tara said: "It wouldn't be money. Money wouldn't make me move. Probably the only thing that could make me move would be family. If for some reason the rest of my family was relocated. Other than that, I couldn't come up with anything that you could offer me that would get me to move, especially out of state."

"Tell me again why that is?" I had said to Tara.

She continued: "I don't know. Why do I want to stay here? That land I grew up on is so important. The history that is there. The Indian artifacts my father found while farming throughout his lifetime on that farm. Knowing what kind of history is there. Thinking of it in somebody else's hands, somebody else owning it, I don't like the idea of someone else owning it. Having my kids grow up with the same experiences I did. Now - could they have the same experiences on another piece of country land in some other state? Yeah, probably. Maybe it's comfort. This is what I know. I don't think it's fear of the unknown; I've always been something of an over-achiever, going out of my comfort zone. Am I afraid to move? No. Say if my husband were stricken with some kind of disease and he had to live in a warm climate, would I move? Yeah, we would move. That would be a necessary thing. If I have the choice and that's not the situation, I don't see why I would move. I've got everything I need right here. This is what I want. This is where I was raised. I don't know. This is the perfect place to live. If you can come up with something good to offer me, we can give it a shot."

After my talk I took questions and comments. One of those in attendance was Dave J. Kunde, a Vietnam vet and career Seabee, a photographer, poet, and story-teller. He had talked beforehand with twenty-five or thirty of the school bus drivers in Alexandria about what "local" means to them, and he boiled down their responses to this:


It's the romantic beauty of the past
It's the challenge of the present
It's the excitement of the fulfillment of the dream of the future

And the dream must include romanticism
The dream must challenge
for the excitement and fulfillment will follow

And the local will continue

- The School Bus Drivers of Alexandria, Minnesota
Collected by David J. Kunde

Rachel Barduson, Director of the Douglas County Historical Society, and Sue McGrath of the Community Education program, both attended my talk and suggested that I make a similar presentation the next time I'm in Alexandria, and that I appear on the local radio station ahead of my presentation in order to better publicize it. We agreed to stay in touch and work on making that happen during my next visit.

A comment was made: the way I write of the things I observe makes the reader or listener want to stop and observe the world more closely; "to slow down and smell the flowers" is the way it was put.

That has set me thinking, again, about what I do. My intent is never to make ugly things pretty; rather, I want to see clearly. And seeing clearly involves action - the act of observation. It's not that the world is particularly special when I'm around; rather there are times that I actively focus on what is around me, on all the particulars and the specifics of it; and then I consider what it all means, its place in the larger scheme of things, be it the natural processes it is part of, its human and spiritual ramifications, the way it is part of a greater whole.

Even a sparrow's "tweet" as it pecks at gravel in an alleyway in downtown Alexandria just after sunrise on the first day of spring might have larger implications. What are they? What exactly is the sparrow doing when getting grit for its craw, and how is that like what we have to do in the daily turn of our lives, for instance.

Everything is connected to everything. The good local writer will make the specifics of his daily existence resonate for readers who are far away and who haven't had his experiences exactly; will suggest in what way and why this connects to other lives; will approach his materials about specific people so as to end up writing also about Every Man, Any Woman. In other words, it is not enough just to see clearly, one must also understand what it means, and convey that as well, not necessarily in bald statement, mind you, for the mere hint and suggestion of it is sometimes enough. The jewels of dew in the morning grass mean little unless you find the universe reflected in one of them. The beauty is: there might be a whole different universe on a different blade of grass. You won't know until you look.



For some
The challenge

Is to play it

Every time.
For some,

To play it
The same.

I am of
The latter.


MARCH 31, 1998

During the afternoon and evening yesterday the skies opened up. A heavy deluge! The streets ran deep with water in places, debris washed along them. It is still wet and wild and windy this morning. We wonder, briefly, why we've chosen to love this place, then think perhaps this place has chosen us.

It is still spitting rain today and the grass turns greener even I watch it. Tulips and windflowers are up and feisty in the breeze. There are worms out on the driveway, in the streets.

In downtown Fairwater, gravel has piled up where it was washing across the road. Out in the country north of town, pools of water stand in fields and ditches.

The season has changed. The field of winter rye has become a thick green carpet. The ditches are greening up too. I should not have to speak again of things turning green. There are a great number of small birds around these days, too, on lawns and powerlines and flying above the road.

You could say it is a raw, ugly morning, but consider the alternative.

How would my life be different if I had awakened today living somewhere else. How would it be if I had awakened here as someone else. Who you are determines pretty much what you can see. I am definitely my father's son. What if instead I were driving to a dead-end job flipping burgers. Would I love this raw day as much?

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