Climate Emergency Poetry

This is just a quick post to let you know I’ll be giving a reading this weekend that’s being organized by a local Climate Change awareness group. The event is this Sunday Feb 21 by Zoom.

Here are the deets:

Here’s info about the Zoom poetry reading I’ll be doing this Saturday (Feb 21) at 3 pm Central. I’ll be reading an excerpt from “Plover Landing,” and a couple of poems. I think I will be the last reader because they’ll be going alphabetically.
Here’s the Zoom address for Climate Emergency Poetry Reading #5 set for THIS Sunday, February 21 at 3:00 p.m. CST (4 EST):…

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Meeting ID: 815 7669 9711Passcode: 286977

SEE YOU THERE! HERE ARE YOUR SCHEDULED GUESTS:POETS: Ella Grim, Marie Zhuikov, Cal Benson, Jill Hinners, Jim Johnson
CLIMATE ACTIVIST: Bill Mittlefehldt
YOUR HOSTS: John Herold & Phil Fitzpatrick           AND OUR FIRST Q & A SESSION WILL FOLLOW!

A Keen Grasp of the Obvious

Image of one of my current favorite commercials courtesy of Progressive Insurance

In high school, I had a classmate named Dave. One of his favorite sayings was, “You have a keen grasp of the obvious.” He’d say it whenever someone made a comment that was self-evident. These were often conversation fillers, used in instances when a person would step outside, notice it was raining, and say, “It’s raining.” Dave would then say his thing. It made him sound so smart and superior.

Dave and I have since been lost to each other through the vagaries of forty years and geography, but I think of him and his sarcastic saying periodically, especially when it comes to those signs that are so popular now in people’s homes. You know, the ones made for the kitchen that say “EAT,” or ones for the living room that say “LOVE, LAUGH, LIVE,” etc.

When they first started appearing years ago, I thought the signs were sort of neat, mainly because, you know me, I love words. But the longer they stay around and the more I see them, the more I have developed a knee-jerk negative reaction toward them. I think things like, “Why would I need a sign to tell me what to do in a kitchen?” As my friend Dave would say, the signs have a keen grasp of the obvious.

The signs are also bossy. Maybe I don’t want to laugh or love. Stop telling me what to do, signs!

I have taken a solemn and deadly vow never to add one of those signs to my home décor.

My dislike of these signs is one thing that makes me love the recent series of Progressive Insurance commercials that feature “Dr. Rick.” He is a pseudo-therapist who tries to ensure his customers (patients) don’t turn into their parents once they become homeowners (a.k.a. parentomorphosis). One of the most recent commercials features not one, but two instances of Dr. Rick encouraging a young female homeowner to trash one of the dreaded bossy signs.

Those commercials make me laugh every time I see them, and that’s something during a pandemic. Well done, Progressive. And Dave, if you’re out there, I look forward to seeing you at our 40th class reunion this year. Maybe I’ll bring you a sign.

Bog Wonder

For the holidays, Russ and I decided to get away from it all – so much safer for us and for others, especially with this new variant of Covid-19 going around. Where better to avoid seeing anyone else than in a bog?

At our cabin in northern Minnesota, we walk regularly past a bog. It’s right next to a gravel road, enticing us with its remoteness and untrammeled nature. The plat book we consult signifies the bog is privately owned, however there’s no owner’s name listed, so we weren’t sure who to ask for permission for access So, we just took a chance, donned our snowshoes, and trammeled it, just a little bit.

Although they look sterile, bogs are places of unparalleled abundance and life. The vast peatlands of northern Minnesota cover more than ten percent of the state. Unlike the clearing of the prairies and white pine forests, efforts to drain and develop the peatlands were mostly failures, although unnaturally straight ditches in some bogs testify to this toil.

The bottom of a peatland is a breathless place – cold, acidic, anaerobic – with no oxygen to decompose branches or the small, still faces of the weasels interred there. Sphagnum mosses wrap around the fur, wood, skin, casting their spell of chemical protection, preserving them whole. Growth is impossible, and Death cannot complete his spare work.

Minnesota’s peatlands formed over five thousand years ago when the climate cooled and rain increased. The state contains more peatlands than any other in the U.S., except its Alaskan stepsister. (A surprising number of Minnesotans spend time in Alaska and vice versa.) Although in the U.K. and northern Europe the smoky glow of peat still heats many houses, the trend never caught on in Minnesota.

In Europe, bogs are portals to distant worlds, wilder realms. Gods travel the bogs. In America, peatlands are just an inconvenience to be drained or avoided. Even the Ojibwe let them alone. Maybe that’s why birds love bogs, like the nearby Sax-Zim Bog. They are places where people are not. Owls can hunt voles, mice, and moles to peaceful content.

We saw many deer trails crossing the bog. Shrubby bushes of Labrador tea poked their tips through the covering of snow. We investigated an island of red pines at the bog’s edge – an upland out of synch with the rest. Climbing a short way, we came upon a human-made square wooden platform covered with a thin layer of snow. A cache of short, fire-ready sticks lay piled between two tree trunks nearby. It looked like a tent platform, ready for use.

We vowed to check the plat map to see how people could access this red pine “island” in summer. It was surrounded by the bog, but perhaps not too much bog for a person to cross when conditions are more liquid.

Back on the bog, we passed stunted black spruce trees and tamaracks, denuded of their needles by winter. A gentle snow began to fall, consecrating all with a layer of white.

All was silent. All was good.

We completed a circuit around the area, which was surprisingly much larger than we could see from the road. As we took off our snowshoes and walked back to our cabin, we were suffused with the peace of this wild place.

Imagine our distress when, a couple of weeks later, we walked past the bog again, only to see snowmobile tracks leading out onto it. The snowmobiles had run ragged circles around the part nearest to the road that was clear of trees. They churned up vegetation, spewing spatters of green “blood” across the snow.

It made me wonder what the snowmobilers were thinking of when they chose to motor around in the bog. They probably thought it looked like a fun place to tear around in – a wasteland, devoid of life, useless to humans. Why not have some fun in it?

Agh. It hurt my heart to see it. Thus, this blog post – letting people know that just because something looks useless to humans doesn’t mean it has no value. Bogs are home to countless creatures and many rare plants. Please, please don’t misuse them.

Letting go of the Past

I bet you’re expecting me to write something deep about how to recover from past hurts and abuses. No such luck. I’m writing about getting rid of an antique that I used to be trapped inside as a child: the elevatorized Baby Butler.

Yes, the marketers at Guild Industries really used the word “elevatorized” to describe it. Just what is this curious device, which was manufactured out of oak in the late 1950s and 60s? It’s a combination highchair, bed, and play table for young children.

I’m not quite sure why it’s considered elevatorized – perhaps because the seat is adjustable. Elevators had been common for decades by then. I guess it was just a 1950s marketing buzzword.

When we were growing up, my mother strapped my brothers and I into it for meals. The Baby Butler also came with a blackboard cover for use when the seat was removed – thus, the play table part.

My butler is missing the metal seat. I think I threw it away because I didn’t realize it went with the rest.

I associate the device with conflicting emotions: the comfort of food, and the frustration of feeling trapped. I feel a twinge of sentimentality toward it, but that’s about it — the kind you’d feel toward a jack-in-the-box you played with as a kid. The music was nice, but the “jack” jumping out of it was unpleasant.

I inherited the butler when we moved my parents into an assisted living facility. I’ve kept it about a half-dozen years, thinking I could sell it as an antique. A lot of them are for sale on E-Bay. But when I discovered mine no longer had the seat, and that the green blackboard was marred by a black marker, I slowly came to the realization the Baby Butler needed to go.

Before I tossed it, I read through the instruction booklet, which my parents had also saved. I love how marketers used to write:

Dear Mother and Dad: We take pleasure in welcoming you as one more happy family in our ever-growing circle of Baby Butler friends. . . The new and improved Baby Butler supplies the answer to your needs, and it satisfies the most discriminating tastes with its beauty of styling and workmanship.

Sorry, Guild Industries. I’m no longer part of your circle of friends.

Do you still have relics from your childhood that give you mixed feelings?

The Five Top Stories of 2020 on Marie’s Meanderings

If you’re reading this, you survived the year that was 2020. I won’t offer any inane or overused platitudes about this year. We all know how it went. While I did write a few posts about the coronavirus and other 2020 disasters, everyone else was, too. So, I tried to keep my topics unique and personal. My most-popular list reflects that. Here are the five top posts from this year, along with a couple of overall popular posts since I started this blog seven years ago.

But first – a couple of more numbers: views almost doubled again this year, with 27,960. My blog has about 520 followers. Thank you, followers. I value you all!

A girl makes friends with an Ojibwe horse at Quetico Provincial Park in Canada.

#1 Revisiting my Horse Mania – This is a relatively recent post (from November) where I reminisce about the love of horses I developed a child. I was able to revisit my passion as I researched and photographed a story in Canada for Lake Superior Magazine about a rare and endangered breed, the Ojibwe horse (also known as Lac La Croix Indian Ponies). My story, “The Horses Nobody Knows” describes how the breed was saved from extinction in the 1970s, and what the horses mean to the Ojibwe people today. The story is only available in the printed magazine (Dec-Jan issue) right now, but the magazine intends to post it online in Feb 2021. I’ll try to remember to post a link here once it’s up.

#2 Bog Birding Bust – This story’s high ranking surprised me because it’s about something that DIDN’T happen. After years of anticipation, I finally went to a local bog that’s a legendary birdwatching site. I hardly saw anything! So, this post was a lesson in the worst time to see birds in the Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota. I guess failure is sometimes much more interesting than success.

#3 That Time I Organized a Sea Lamprey Taste Test – This was a trip down memory lane from when I worked for Minnesota Sea Grant in the late 1990s. We received funding for a demonstration project to determine whether there was an overseas market for a Great Lakes invasive pest – the sea lamprey. To promote the project, I organized a media event, which included a taste test by local luminaries, including the university chancellor, the mayor, etc. The event was a hit – leading to national and international stories. The project was also a hit, until further testing showed the lamprey were too high in mercury for safe consumption. So, it turns out, despite my concerns at the outset, I did a darn good job of promoting something that can contaminate people.

#4 The Many Faces of Buddy – As if this year wasn’t sucky enough, my dog (who was a frequent contributor to this blog) died. To know Buddy was to love him. We still keenly feel his sudden loss.

#5 A Mini-Minnesota Vacation: Lake Vermilion State Park – Despite travel restrictions, Russ and I were able to meander around a bit, close to home in our Scamp trailer. One of the first trips we took was to a new state park in northern Minnesota. Read my post for some pros and cons.

Overall, my blog’s most popular posts continue to be a tongue-in-cheek story I wrote about writer’s bumps (17,300 views this year!) and another about how crappy Iams dog food is.

Best wishes to you all in 2021. May your coronavirus vaccinations come quickly and with few side effects.

Please, stop showing the needles!

Professor Gottfried Kremsner injects a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from German biotechnology company CureVac to a volunteer at the start of a clinical test series at his tropical institute of the university clinic in Tuebingen, Germany, June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

I don’t know if it bothers you, but I’ve about had my fill of seeing news reports showing needles poking into people’s arms and giant q-tips being shoved up their noses. Yes, I am happy that a COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed, but do we really need to see people getting shots multiple times during every evening newscast?

Maybe it’s my empathic nature, but it hurts me to see people getting vaccinated. I am not afraid of needles. I would just rather not see them. Even when I get vaccinated, I look the other way. I know it’s going to hurt. I know it will be over quickly. But I’d just rather not see the giant pointy thing approaching my arm.

I saw enough news footage of people getting nasal swabs for COVID testing that I realized I would not enjoy that, either. I am lucky that my community has a large-scale spit testing facility available – one of the first in Minnesota.

I had some symptoms a few months ago, so I took the spit test. Thankfully, it was negative. I plan to get another one even though I don’t have symptoms because we are going to try and have a small family gathering over Christmas. I would much rather spit into a tube than have my brain scraped by a giant q-tip.

Maybe I should just stop watching the evening news. But I would much rather vainly complain about needle footage in hopes some ABC News executive will read my blog and find some other visual to use instead. What would that footage be? I don’t know. Just show the vaccine vials or a smiling person with a temporary bandage on the vaccinated arm. Anything but the NEEDLES!

The Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game – Marie’s Version

Greetings! I hope all my dear readers made it through Thanksgiving in a healthy and happy way. But if you are getting COVID-isolation crazy and want to let off some steam, I humbly suggest you try the Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game. I heard about this from a coworker and it sounded too fun to pass up.

I got together with two people from my COVID bubble and we watched “Christmas at Grand Valley,” available for streaming from Amazon Prime. In this scintillating saga, which is cast in the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries series, Kelly returns to her Wyoming hometown (from Chicago) and becomes involved in an effort to save the town’s beloved lodge. In the process, she falls for a handsome widower sent to decide the fate of the lodge.

I’m not sure why this movie is considered a mystery. The only inkling of mystery comes in the form of, “WHEN ARE KELLY AND WIDOWER MAN EVER GOING TO KISS?”

Whenever certain things happen on screen, viewers must take a sip of their drink, or two sips, down the whole thing, or take a shot. I *think* (memory is fuzzy) I ended up drinking a whole bottle of wine between supper and the movie. It was great fun, plus I thought up some new rules, which are the ones posted in red.

Happy Holidays everyone!


Take one drink whenever:

  • A reference is made to a dead relative
  • The “Mayor” appears on screen
  • The main character’s name is related to Christmas (Holly, Nick, etc.)
  • Anytime someone disses fake Christmas trees
  • A newcomer partakes in an old family or town tradition
  • Hot chocolate, apple cider, or eggnog is on screen
  • A big city person is transplanted to a small town
  • Christmas caroling, a tree farm, or baking cookies appears
  • Mistletoe is on screen
  • A character makes a magic deal with Santa or an angel
  • Any time you hear “Jingle Bells”
  • The town is named something Christmas-y
  • A cisgendered character appears

Take two drinks whenever:

  • Characters experience a ‘near-miss’ kiss
  • An obvious product advertisement appears
  • A snowball fight or ice skating happens
  • An ugly sweater or tie appears
  • The characters are snowed in
  • A “Pride and Prejudice” reference is introduced (a character is named Darcy, a place named Pemberly)
  • Someone with slicked-back hair expresses their hate for Christmas

Finish your drink whenever:

  • The cynic is filled with the Christmas spirit
  • It snows on Christmas
  • Someone selects a Christmas tree
  • The main characters bake/cook something together, or Christmas-themed food is mentioned
  • Bad art appears or a literary reference is made
  • Dissonant architecture appears (for instance, a lighthouse in Wyoming)
  • Accordion music happens, especially if it’s playing Jingle Bells

Take a shot whenever:

  • The movie stars Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert, or Andrew Walker appear
  • The main characters fall in love
  • The main characters kiss

Snowshoe Moon

The moon was too gorgeous to be denied. We went out to greet it on a frozen lake.

We snowshoed past this cozy cabin with a little Christmas tree in the middle window. You can almost see the tree in in this night-blurry photo. Silent night. Inspiring night….

Revisiting My Horse Mania

An Ojibwe horse makes friends with a girl at Dawson Trail Campground in Quetico Provincial Park, Canada.

When I was a girl, I was horse crazy. My best friend, Jody, lived in my neighborhood and we collected every different breed of plastic toy horse we could get our hands on. (Or that we could convince our parents to buy.)

I had galloping horses, standing horses, rearing horses, trotting horses; Palominos, greys, Morgans, Appaloosas, Paints, you name it.

Jody and I enjoyed many imaginary adventures with our steeds. Enraptured, we watched movies like “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” “Justin Morgan had a Horse,” “The Black Stallion,” and “National Velvet.” I must have read all the Beverly Cleary horse books and Walter Farley books. During winter, we didn’t build snowmen, we made snow horses (which are basically snowmen lying down).

The highlight of my year was summer YWCA camp where I could ride a horse, although at a plodding pace. (Spatz, I miss you!)

It didn’t help that my grandfather raised horses (and mules, donkeys, ponies) and had his own Western store. He had a mule named Hubert (after Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota politician) and a dapple-grey pony named Daisy that he let me ride on my rare visits. My grandfather trained Palominos for show. The back of his store housed saddles, which were propped on rows of sawhorses. The heavenly aroma of leather filled that back room. I climbed up on the saddles, pretending I was riding.

Jody and I begged our parents for a horse, coming up with outlandish plans about how they could be kept in the garage of our city homes, promising we would take care of them and exercise them every day.

When we were in sixth grade, Jody’s parents caved. She got her own horse, a paint named Friskie. She kept it at a stable just outside of town. I spent many Saturday there, joining her as she exercised Friskie around the indoor arena. I rode a different horse that needed a workout.

Sometimes, Jody would trailer her horse, once even bringing it to my back yard (see photo below). Her family had a cabin outside of town and I also I recall riding Friskie bareback on the gravel roads around Island Lake.

Having a girlfriend with a horse wasn’t quite as good as having my own horse, but it must have helped assuage my passion somewhat. I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief. My horse love didn’t totally go away, though. At the end of junior high, I attended a horse camp in central Minnesota with another girlfriend. It was the kind of place where you were assigned your own horse for the week and were responsible for its care. We learned how to brush a horse properly, feed it, etc. We were assigned to different groups based on our riding proficiency. I was proud to be in one of the upper levels. The week culminated with a trail ride and campfire, where we had the thrill of galloping the horses.

These memories resurfaced because a magazine story I wrote (and photographed) about horses was published recently. Not just any ol’ horse, however. Quietly, over the centuries, the Ojibwe people developed their own breed, now known as the Lac La Croix Horse (or Lac La Croix Indian Pony). Once roaming in the thousands over northern Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, these horses were semi-feral and community owned. Tribal members only brought them into enclosures during the winter to ensure their safety and health.

In the late 1970s, the horses almost went extinct for a number of reasons, including systematic efforts by European settlers to destroy them, and the rise of motorized technology.

In my story for Lake Superior Magazine (“The Horses Nobody Knows”), I describe how the breed was saved from the brink of nonexistence and what they mean to the Ojibwe today. It’s the longest article I’ve ever written. I had to wait a year for it to get published, which was extremely hard, because, you know, horse mania.

Learning about an unknown part of my home state’s past was exciting. I thought I knew every breed. As it turns out, there was a unique breed almost in my back yard, so to speak, that needed help.

I was more than happy to resurrect my horse crazies and put my writing talents to use to help raise awareness about the Ojibwe horses’ plight. If you’d like to donate to Grey Raven Ranch to help these special horses, they have that option on their website.

Anyone got a ranch they want to sell me?