November

Two months in and most days we still ride together as a family to drop the kindergartner off at The Angle’s one-room school house. She loves it, doesn’t want to leave afterward and calls every one of her classmates her friend. As we were getting into the truck on that first day back in early September, she was a bubbling mass of excitement and told us as she hefted her new backpack up onto the seat that it was “the importanest day” of her life.

Her papa’s eyes met mine and we both smiled.

We have only one more month of this pregnancy and solo time with her, though it often doesn’t quite yet feel real that we’ll be adding another person to the family. I hold my belly and wonder if losing a baby in the past does that to everyone. I’m in love and excited, yet I’m also well aware that anything could go wrong. Our little one isn’t out of the woods yet. I’ve also had the fleeting feeling that I should get my own affairs in order; women die in childbirth all the time and the grim statistics seem to find their way to me despite my not wanting to even think about it.

Has loss made me a pessimist? Or a realist?

Or will it make this new love for this new being even that much sweeter?

I hop out of the truck a mile from our house and get in my cold morning walk while he continues on to town. It’s not far and I go slowly, focusing on the muscles of my hips, abdominals and hamstrings. My joints and ligaments are stretched and feel loose now, ready for the birth.  I’ve been saying all along that the baby’s coming early and will see the light of day well before his December 12th due date.

Secretly, I’ve hoped he’ll be born under the Scorpio sign of November like me. But, I had also hoped once upon a time that my Iris would be left-handed like me. When she showed clear signs of right-hand dominance very early, I tempered any disappointment by remembering the myriad ways she’ll have it easier being right-handed in a right-handed world.

Still, November feels special to me. It’s a serious month, one of endings and transition, cold days and colder nights, morning skim ice on creeks and shorelines. The dark hours grow longer and the smell of woodsmoke flavors my morning walks. The fall colors are usually at their end and the temperatures plummet as the determined rifle hunters take to the trees. November ends with a focus on gratitude in our Thanksgiving holiday before making way for the mirth and merriment of the Christmas season.

Somewhere in all of that, my body will bring a baby into the world. I pray for his safety and a peaceful, easy arrival. I pray for the world he’ll be born into, with its great divides and fear-wrought masses. The bad guys are indeed winning right now, even though they’re the voting minority, but I pray that much will change before he has eyes and ears for the business of our social climate.

I pray for you reading this, that November will be a month of warmth and inner growth. That you’ll hold close the promise of spring through another northern winter. That you’ll find comfort in gratitude for all that you already have.

For me, the prenatal depression of the late summer months has lifted and the joy of all this change is finally making its way through the hardened cracks to my wary heart. I feel … Happiness, and then I second-guess myself that it could possibly even be that.

I pray for everyone’s happiness. I pray for the lifting of fear in all regards.

These are anguishingly hard times for many, and yet I know we’ll see them through. I know everything works out perfectly, even when we don’t get to define what “perfect” is.

I know this November, this cold and serious November will be exactly what it is supposed to be. And I pray for the wisdom to see it as such, come what may.

Column 108 belly photo
Photo by Sophie Butler

(Published November 6 in the Warroad Pioneer)

Focus on Love

After the miscarriage of Celia Rose last fall, I confided in a friend who had experienced the same kind of loss. She told me that through her grief, the words that rang the loudest came from her husband, who told her simply, “Focus on love.”

I wrote those words down and put them by my front door. They are now the last thing I read when I walk out of my house and the first thing when I walk in. Still, I forget sometimes. I get lost in my own fear and anxiety about any old topic, and it can turn into negativity, then grumpiness, then despondency, then anger, then rage.

It is easy to feel afraid and all the rest of it these days, especially with regards to the critically ill and increasingly evil social and political climate in our country. It’s much harder to focus on love, which is why I know that must be my chore, my commitment, my practice.

We must focus on love. Too many of us have forgotten. But, when one person remembers, even a little bit, it’s contagious. It reminds someone else.

Earlier this fall, I drove our aging pickup truck to town and the starter went out in a store parking lot. An elderly man noticed me kneeling by the front tire, reaching a screw driver up into the works of the truck, trying to jump the starter solenoid. I could get it to spark, but nothing else. He offered to help and brought a friend who drove his car around to jump the battery at the same time. They worked on my truck for a good while to no avail and then kindly advised I run over to the auto garage across the street and ask for help. A busy mechanic took pity on me, left his full garage and ringing phones and came with me across the street. He also tried for a time and then gave me the free diagnosis: the starter was shot.

Long story short, I called in the home-team Calvary, and the starter got changed right there in the parking lot. I had sat there in my truck and cried for a time, feeling helpless and angry (and all the emotional pregnancy hormones). But people had offered their help, their love. And I immediately felt less alone.

A different time, as the same truck downshifted to slow for the upcoming border crossing, the transmission went out. I pulled the truck to the side of the road in “no-man’s land” – that small stretch of road between the US and Canadian border crossings – and killed, started and re-started the engine, the only thing I knew to do when the transmission wouldn’t engage. I was near tears of frustration again when there was a tap on my window. An officer from the Canadian agency had heard the transmission drop, left his duties and walked the distance out to us. He knew there was nothing to be done with the vehicle and so he asked my young daughter and I to please feel free to wait inside while the tow truck came. For the next forty-five minutes, he turned his office desk and computer into a Netflix viewing cubicle where my daughter introduced him to her favorite cartoon while she colored and ate his snacks. They chattered and laughed and became fast friends as I watched for our rescue vehicle.

Again, unwarranted, a stranger had offered help, love in a time of minor crisis and it made all the difference in our little world.

I left my nice, new smartphone at a restaurant in Warroad once and headed north for The Angle. I had disabled the locking mechanism, and the employee who found it used that fact not to her advantage but to mine. She texted the last person I had texted, asked them to get in touch with me through other means and a day later I had my expensive phone back in hand. Her kindness, her love, saved me an embarrassing amount of money and hassle, and I’m so grateful.

Some time ago, I ran over a softball-sized rock on the pavement in Sprague. I thought nothing of it until I reached the US border crossing. The customs agent noticed my low tire, aired it up for me and then escorted me to the tire-repair shop fifteen+ miles away just so I wouldn’t become stranded on the side of the road. The tire made it all that way but barely. Before I could thank him or even offer a smile for his kindness, he pulled back out into traffic and left.

He had simply helped a stranger; he had loved, and he needed nothing in return.

These are only a few examples of recent times in my life when people have offered love in the form of kindness and help. They had focused on love, likely without even realizing it, and it altered the course of my day, perhaps my life.

Yes, it is easier to feel afraid and angry, but it’s more natural to feel love. When we’re not thinking about ourselves and our stories, love is what naturally comes out of us as human beings. Through loss, through grief, through fear of so many unknowns, love is still there waiting to be used, to be spread, to be offered like the most beautiful gift that it is.

In every crisis, personal or national or global, I can think of no better advice than “focus on love.” It’s our superpower, and it’s time to put it to good use.

(Published in the October 30th issue of the Warroad Pioneer)

A Tribute to the Commander-in-Thief

I was listening to the news on Wild102 out of Roseau recently and heard that the Social Security Administration announced a cost-of-living adjustment that will increase the average monthly check for social security recipients by $39 per month. An elderly lady was interviewed, and she was excited about the news, though she admitted most of the increase would likely go towards her husband’s medical care.

I felt the tears welling up with the unfairness of it all. So many people are barely getting by.

And yet … the entire country glossed over a critical tidbit in the news cycle a couple weeks back. Airtight evidence revealed that Trump and his family have defrauded the US government of more that $500 million in taxes over the years.

Half a BILLION dollars.

Stolen from our veterans, our teachers, our elderly, our kids.

And you and me? We had to make up for that $500 million that the Trump family didn’t pay. We paid what they wouldn’t, because we’re honest, hard-working folk, and we have higher expectations for ourselves than we do for the man 49% of us put in the White House.

Our grandparents get a $39/month raise and they are excited.

Our president and his family stole $500 million and we don’t blink an eye. In fact, based on the 2016 election, it’s likely that more than half of the people eligible for that $39/month boost will vote for Trump again.

Our kids have to sell frozen food, raffle tickets and magazines to participate in after-school activities. Our local small businesses pony up to sponsor the schools in myriad ways. Our teachers supply their classrooms with countless items out of their own pockets. Our farmers are committing suicide at an unprecedented rate. Our veterans are languishing in under-funded mental health programs. Our local seniors sell lefse to put a new roof on their senior center. The Meals-on-Wheels programs get stretched ever tighter every year. Even our Angle fire department had young girls painting faces to help them raise money for a new fire garage.

But our president and his family steals $500 million from all of us, and our community still lines up for their Trump 2020 bumper sticker.

He’s a liar. He’s a cheat. And he’s a thief.

Half a BILLION dollars.

He couldn’t name one single Bible verse when asked. He made fun of a reporter with physical disabilities. He promised that children separated from their parents at the border would be reunited by July 19, but he jets around to political rallies spewing his hate-language to his worshiping flock all while the number of babies behind bars continues to rise. His tariffs will cost American auto-maker Ford over $1B in profits resulting in 24,000 people losing their jobs. His trade negotiations have hurt farmers across the country so drastically, he had to implement a $12B aid package.

Many families in our area, including mine, have loved ones helping with the seasonal sugar beet harvest in western MN. They work away from home for 12-hour shifts in cold and dirty conditions to make an extra bit of money for the coming winter.

And most of them vote for a man who stole $500 million dollars from us.

He stole from you and me.

He stole from my 86-year old grandmother who still works 10-12 hour days running her resort.

He stole from my daughter who goes to the last one-room public school house in Minnesota which has had to scrape and save and beg and plead for recent funding to finally make changes to the aging structure.

He stole from my sister’s father-in-law who should have had world-class veteran’s care as he bravely fought and lost to cancer.

I have no patience for a thief and a liar, and you shouldn’t either.

When I hear an elderly woman tickled pink about $39 extra a month from a standard-of-living increase and juxtapose that against the proven fact that Trump stole half a billion dollars from us, first I get sad and then I get angry. He doesn’t deserve the support of the hardest working people in this country. He doesn’t deserve my family and neighbors sporting his name or his slogans on their beat-up vehicles. He doesn’t deserve your campaign contribution pennies.

He does not deserve you. You are good people. And he is not.

He steals from you. You are honest people. And he is not.

He sits in his golden tower or at his green golf courses with ocean views or behind the Oval Office desk that has represented the honor and dignity of our nation for centuries, and he laughs at you.

Don’t give him anything else to laugh at. And don’t let him turn you into another weapon in his arsenal.

Remember that $39/month vs. the $500 million he stole.

Remember.

He does not deserve you.

(Published in the October 16th issue of the Warroad Pioneer)

Indigenous Peoples Day and What the Trees Say

Two years ago, Minnesota declared the second Monday of October Indigenous Peoples Day. Other states and cities have as well, and I assumed Warroad would have some official designation. Yet, last year’s school calendar read “Columbus Day”, and this year there is nary a mention of Indigenous Peoples Day. (In the district’s defense, no other holidays but Labor Day and Memorial Day are listed either.)

This should change. Mayor Marvin and Superintendent Haapala, please make it so (and add a ceremony in the coming years). It would be one small way to honor the indigenous roots of our town and school.

Most everyone understands that Christopher Columbus didn’t “discover” America; Indigenous People had been here for “time immemorial”, to use Governor Dayton’s words in his 2016 Indigenous Peoples Day proclamation. Columbus also wasn’t even the first European here; the Vikings beat him by five centuries – another group we celebrate in Minnesota.

Columbus did bring old-world disease to an entire continent, however, killing untold numbers. And while his journey marked the start of the great age of cross-Atlantic exploration, it was also the beginning of systematic enslavement, starting with the indigenous slaves he took home with him for display and to work on other lands that he “conquered.”

Minorities in this country have been struggling ever since. Yay, white people.

Bleak and terrible segue, I know.

I’m just so exhausted by the course our country is charting, and the last few weeks have been particularly trying. I go from reading everything I can to try to stay balanced between both the Left and the Right (still failing to understand the latter), and then, for sanity’s sake, I force myself to disconnect completely. Deleting social media, unplugging, and escaping into the wilderness – figuratively speaking.

This past weekend, after the especially ugly division over Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, it was a literal escape. My live-in fishing guide, home from the seasonal beet harvest because of rain, took me fishing two days in a row – an extremely rare occurrence. He caught most of the crappies (tricky fish!), and I caught most of the walleye. I also pulled up the biggest pike I’ve ever wrestled. Oh, what a fight!Column 105 Northern Pike.jpg

It felt decadent and incredibly peaceful to escape to the water, a healing luxury I know not many have. I don’t take it for granted. I relaxed and did my best to release the despair of our country’s backwards slide.  Trust, I told myself. Breath, my body answered. Be, the water sighed.

The glorious fall colors are hanging on even in the shallow soil of the rocky Canadian islands. We don’t have a lot of red-leafed tall-standing trees here, but much of the underbrush ages in various shades of brick and umber. That, mixed with the rich golds of the birch and popple, plus the deep greens of the balsam and white pine, created a painter’s backdrop my camera couldn’t do justice.

I let my thoughts dart where they would with the gulls and left my soul open to soar with the eagles. It wasn’t long until I felt tangible strength regathering just as the cormorants were in massive flocks to prepare for their pre-winter’s journey.

The water temperature has plummeted into the 40’s and I could feel it hardening, the molecules tightening their patterns, beneath the ride of the boat.

I thought of the people who came before us. I thought of those born to these waterways. I thought of we interlopers who think we own it all, who have not yet earned our keep on this precious land.

This political trouble will pass, just like the golden leaves of the birch. The old rule of the patriarchy will crumble, just as the sodden, slippery carpet of decaying leaves will dry and nourish the next growth. It is written on the face of the planet and nothing, not even a screaming white male Senator or Supreme Court nominee, can change that.

But, people no longer have the grace of the trees. We killed that possibility when we decimated the Indigenous population. Everything, all social progress in our ridiculously archaic man-made systems of being, has been a fight by the few on behalf of the many. We march, we riot, we fall, we die. We fight on in endless cycles for generations.

Still, we cannot help but keep moving forward. I trust in the cycles of the earth and our connection to her. I abide in her feminine wisdom. I fight for her right (and the Peoples on her) to exist in peace.

I believe her.

The Indigenous will rise again. The strength of the feminine will come back into power. It may not be in my lifetime, but at least I can see the purpose of my life now. It is to pave the way for those who come after. It is to take in the colors of the fall with peace in my heart. It is to catch dinner from the lake and eat with gratitude that same night. For now, I will keep the stories alive that connect us. I will grieve and weep beside those who have lost their will to fight, and I will warrior onward for every cause that deserves my energy.

Social change cannot happen without going to battle on behalf of love. And I love this land and these people. The course is set. The migration begins. Winter is coming.

Bring it on, the trees say.

Dear Lacey

Dear Lacey,

I remember the night you were raped. I remember some of the details clearly, other details not so much.

My parents were gone and I had friends over when I shouldn’t have. We were seniors in high school and you were a freshman. You were my younger sister’s friend, but I don’t remember if she was there. When some of the jock boys showed up, they had been drinking. Continue reading “Dear Lacey”

Letter to the Editor – October 2

What an utter surprise and (selfish) delight to read in this week’s local small-town newspaper a letter supporting similar beliefs to mine! We are few and far between, we blue progressives, in this land of vocal and volatile Trump supporters.  And no where could feel more divided than the rural locale. At least that’s my opinion and perspective of the moment.  Her paragraph “I am not afraid…” literally gave me goosebumps. Continue reading “Letter to the Editor – October 2”

A Girl Can Dream

I want a president, not a predator. I want to read news about her kindness, not another social media attack. I want political nominees who aren’t accused of sexual assault, pedophilia, or all different manner of financial crimes. I want leaders who encourage and add to the melting pot, not those who strain out the white potatoes as their favorite part. Continue reading “A Girl Can Dream”