The World is Too Much With Us

Column 8 Published in the August 11 Warroad Pioneer

It occurred to me some time ago, as I watched my two-year old run joyously up and down the grassy ditches of our driveway, that this glacier-smoothed prairie land isn’t flat to her. She has mountains to climb every day, valleys to explore, caverns and arroyos. There is no cellular longing in her for the great pines that used to anchor the soil and the wolves here. No ancestral guilt for the unchecked logging of a century ago that left us with only the fast growing birch, popple and balm of gilead. “Junk wood” as I’ve heard it called by the old timers. When you’ve survived sixty some winters on the sweat of your own labor cutting, hauling, stacking, and tending to the fires, I suppose you’ve earned the right to judge the wood that warms your family.

The land feels flat to me of late. I walked the road, and the curing crunch of gravel underfoot offered up only a minor healing tonic. “The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth knew. He saw clearly the growing disconnect with nature. My distracted mind can’t see the summer moss and mushroom patches. The wild lilies bloomed and broke, and I barely noticed.

This place, this Angle drew me home four years ago this September and never have I regretted it. But the worldly world still pulls and tugs and busy-ness erodes the rhythm of deep, barefoot breathing. The sunrise and sunset of the harvest blue moon sang quietly through my window as I worked diligently at my computer, its ghastly light interrupting sleep patterns and dream therapy.

We’ve moved from one reactive happening to the next this spring and summer. Northerly Park grant planning, a friend’s death, a sibling’s wedding, a 300+ person community event, and oh  my  gosh, potty training. Why did no one tell me it’s so hard!? I read a how-to book, for goodness sake, and felt like a fool doing so, but I’ve been at my wit’s end too many times these last many months. Still it drags on.

Our Angle Days event will be behind me when this goes to press, but now, as it breathes down my neck like a disorganized dragon, I wonder how it always comes together like it does. Each year, we bite off more and more, plan bigger and broader, invite, advertise, market – all in hopes to share this place, this simple beautiful life.

And as the stress roils, the Angle works its silent magic to gently bring me back.

Today it was the east wind and a soft blanket of rain that reminded me, brought me home. I stared over a flat gray lake and let the mist meet my skin just as I used to in the monotone winters of the Pacific Northwest.

You have forgotten, the wind breathed to me. This is The Angle. This is the truth of life. Somehow, someway it all always works out perfectly. Everything is as it should be. Even the spending and getting. Even the flatness.

You have chosen to remember, it said, sweeping across the miles of rocky shorelines and untouched islands of Lake of the Woods, bringing the cleansing rain as easterlies always seem to do. Remember you are home. Remember you are whole. Remember you are enough.

Now go. Get up. Run with the wolves again. Show your little one just how majestic these flatland hills truly are.

This Glorious Mess

Column 6 Published in the July 14, 2015 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Life at the Angle is messy.

Or perhaps I should say that MY life at the Angle is messy. Some folks definitely seem to have it all pulled together, packaged neatly and tied up with a perfect country plaid bow. But even the fastidious ones are not immune from that telltale marking mud on the back of their pant leg that comes from climbing in and out of dirty vehicles.

Muddy roads are a benign sort of messiness, of course. It’s all of the miscellaneous messes that slowly add up until sometimes it’s a downright sloppy situation.

Like always having digital clocks that are blinking because of the far too often power outages. Or showing up to a social event and inexplicably having sawdust in my hair or wood stain on my arms. My “good” clothes never stay good for long because something always needs doing and running upstairs to change isn’t time effective. We might live in the sticks, darn it, but I still like to dress decently.

There are things I don’t remember ever doing when I lived in the big city. If a tire needs air, an engine needs oil, a toddler needs holding, or chicken poop needs to be scraped off shoes, we do it, usually right then and there when it needs to be done. Popsicle stickiness gets washed off in the rain barrel. A neighbor needs a part, so we both rummage through a dusty, greasy well-used shop to find it. If I have dirt beneath my finger nails, it just means I had twenty free minutes to pull weeds and didn’t want to waste a bit of it going to get my garden gloves. Long hair smells of campfire smoke a couple times a week, and as a result the pillowcase does too. Sometimes sheets stay out on the line through the rain until they’re dry again. That’s all right by me. Our rains are decently clean here.

Did you know that if you move a turtle across the road you might just get peed on? I escaped that mess but only just narrowly. Defense mechanisms fascinate me. So do the ingenious ways that plants spread their seeds. Anyone who’s picked a hundred little cockleburs out of clothing or pet hair certainly sees the annoying grace in a plant’s subtle parentage.

Sometimes the mess arises simply from trying to do too many things at once. Multi-taskers are us, right? All the research points to the folly of multi-tasking, which I wrote about once for a software company in Southern California while sitting at my desk in tiny little Angle Inlet, Minnesota. Moving here, I truly thought a simple life would help quell my insatiable need to be reading six books at once, for example.

Most mornings I awaken with the bird song, knock over a couple books on my nightstand and stumble to my computer to get a few more things done for Angle Days or log a couple hours on a freelance writing project. When the rooster starts crowing it’s time for a morning tea or bone broth or green smoothie or fresh eggs fried in butter with homemade sausage and a thick slice of tomato dusted with pink rock salt.

Speaking of pink, it has been the year of the lady slipper. I make the drive to town several times a week for the UPS run, and each day on that long lonely stretch of road through Canada I marvel at the literal thousands of these rare pink orchids. They’re just past their peak now, but they are a sight.

If I’m not UPS’ing, I’ve been known to pick up a shift at Jerry’s, serving breakfast or beer (only rarely at the same time) to fisherman and locals. It’s a nice way to stay connected to the ebb and flow of the Angle. We’re missing our favorite pancake-eating, Twisted Tea-drinking biker dude Jon Kleven these last few weeks. His passing wasn’t sudden but it was impactful. On our drive to and fro, we can still look lovingly at the mess that is his yard and was his Angle life. He was both a rare orchid and a cocklebur, that one. Rest in peace and ride on, Jon.

Certainly, messes don’t get cleaned up without hard work. And hard work often makes a mess. It’s a frustrating cycle, but one I wouldn’t trade. Each day life gets a touch more orderly, or perhaps I’m learning to mind the chaos a little bit less, I don’t know which one. Either way, the sun continues to rise and set on my glorious mess, and for that I am grateful.