Checking-in

I haven’t been meandering much lately. I’ve been too busy with final edits to my “Meander North” manuscript — a book coming out this fall composed of the best of my blog entries. Choosing the stories was easy. Figuring out how to edit them was difficult because they occur during different timeframes during the first nine years of my blog. Plus, there are fifty-one of them!

But I think my editors and have I figured it out. If all goes well, the book should be available in late October. I’m planning a launch event in Duluth for early November. I will post details here once I know them, and I’ll be doing a cover reveal!

In other news, I’ve been continuing my kickboxing workouts. I love them. I am proud to say I can now jump rope 70 times in a row. That’s quite a change from a couple of months ago when my count was like, uh, nothing. Everytime I go to the gym, I feel like Rocky Balboa. 🙂

Russ and I have had many gatherings of friends and family lately. We’re looking forward to setting sail on Lake Superior soon.

Until then, meander well, my friends.

“Meander North” is coming!

Nodin Press in Minneapolis is planning on publishing a book of the “best” posts from this very blog. The process received a boost yesterday when I learned I received a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Commission to pay for the book’s editing. I’ve received plenty of grants through my Sea Grant work before but this is my first personal arts grant, so I’m pretty psyched.

As planned at this point, my “Meander North” book will be arranged by season and will celebrate all things northern Minnesotan. Plus, bonus chapters will relate to bookish adventures and brushes with fame. There will also be some content you haven’t seen before. When asked what genre it is, I answer that it will be a blogmoir (blog memoir).

Thank you, Arrowhead Regional Arts Commission, for the grant and for all the work you do to support artists and writers in this neck of the woods!

The Top 5 Meanders of 2021

Thank you, dear readers, for meandering around with me again this past year. Although our travels and musings were not as far-flung as in the past, we tried to make the best of things despite Covid. We narrowly escaped being infected just recently and hope you have remained healthy.

Here are the five top posts from this year, along with news about an exciting project I have in the works.

But first – a couple more numbers: views almost doubled again this year, with 47,600. My blog has about 700 followers.

An image of one of my favorite commercials, courtesy of Progressive Insurance.

The #1 new post this year was “A Keen Grasp of the Obvious.” I wrote it in homage to the Progressive Insurance commercials that feature Dr. Rick,” a pseudo-therapist who tries to ensure his customers (patients) don’t turn into their parents once they become homeowners (a.k.a. parentomorphosis). The commercials earlier this year reminded me of a saying one of my high school friends used to espouse. Several more commercials in the series have aired since then, and I still like them all! Other people must like them too, if they are finding my blog. If I had a second chance at a career, I’d like to work at whatever agency produced these ads.

#2: “A Review of the Lungplus Device.” This gadget is distributed by a Duluth-area woman. It’s a mouth-worn humidity and heat exchanger you can use while cross-country skiing to make your lungs happier. Yes, it works, and yes, it makes you look like a dork. But it’s worth it to have happy lungs.

#3: “Letting go of the Past.” The elevatorized Baby Butler was a combination highchair, play table, and bed for young children that was manufactured in the 1950s and 60s. I survived being placed in the contraption as a baby and in this post, describe the process of letting go of it.

#4: “A Time for Photography: Madeline Island.” This was about a life-changing photography class I took at the Madeline Island School for the Arts on a small island in Lake Superior. It features some of my favorite photos from the trip. Because I took the class for work, and I work for a public university funded by taxpayers, the photos are available for reuse. BUT, just a reminder that photos appearing in my blog that have my signature on them are ones I took on my own time with my own equipment and are not for reuse without permission.

#5: “The Path of Totality.” One of my short stories based on the 2017 eclipse was printed in a local literary journal. This post is about how I developed the story idea and what I hope to do with the collection of which it is a part. I’m still looking for an agent for this collection, hint, hint. Although I’m not having much luck with that.

Since you’ve read down this far, I have news to impart. During a bout of insomnia in the wee hours of the morning about a month ago, I got the idea to create a northern Minnesota memoir collection of the “best” stories from my blog over these past eight years. I thought “Meander North” would make a good title. I’d arrange the stories by season, plus add a couple of other miscellaneous chapters.

I developed a book proposal and sent it out to a couple of well-known Minnesota publishing houses. I heard back from one, and they want to publish it! EEEEEeeeee!

In 2022, I’ll be polishing up a bunch of these posts and they’ll be coming out in a book. I must say, I’m pretty darn excited for the new year. It’s about time one of those crazy insomnia ideas paid off.

Seeing Rabbits

Last winter, a rabbit lived in our backyard, sheltering under our neighbor’s shed. We’d awaken in the morning, shuffle downstairs and take a look out our window on the landing where we could see the back yard. More often than not, there she crouched, a brown cottontail, nibbling what grass wasn’t already covered by snow.

Since both of our dogs died, we’ve been petless. We saw this rabbit so much, it just seemed natural to start becoming a little attached. I began leaving her offerings of dried orchard grass, remnants of our deceased guinea pig. I also initiated a naming contest for the bunny on Facebook. My friend June won with the moniker of “Tater Tot.” It fit – the shape and coloring were approximately right.

Tator Tot survived the winter and this spring we noticed several Tiny Tots scampering around the backyard – her children, no doubt. They didn’t seem to be doing any damage to my hostas, just hiding under them instead of eating them, so we welcomed these new additions to the yard.

I suspect that Tator Tot eventually left our yard for the forest at the end of our road. We sometimes saw a rabbit fitting her description during our woods walks. Her Tiny Tots hung around for several weeks and then seemed to disappear. I hope they, too, found their way to the forest. But they could have easily been eaten by a neighborhood cat or a fox.

I rather miss these foster pets. They were easy to take care of. No fuss, no muss.

I recently read Linda LeGarde Grover’s book “Gichigami Hearts.” LeGarde is a former neighbor of mine – we grew up in on the same street on the other side of Duluth. Her book offers a Native American perspective of our old neighborhood. In one chapter, “Rabbits Watching Over Onigamiising,” she describes how seeing rabbits reminds her of the Native spiritual being, Nanaboozhoo. Now, if you’ve read my book, “Eye of the Wolf,” you know that Nanaboozhoo is a trickster– part rabbit, part human. He embodies the best and the worst of humans and the supernatural.

Tator Tot

LeGarde’s backyard bunnies savored her tulips, necessitating a change the next spring to planting marigolds, which she says the “rabbits nibbled on, but not much.” LeGarde writes that planting different flowers rather than trying to eradicate the bunnies was a good compromise. “We are all here to live our lives . . . We know from traditional teachings that all animals are important to the earth, that no animal is ranked higher or lower than any other in the eyes of the Creator, and that all have a contribution to make.”

She recounted a conversation she had with a friend about seeing rabbits on clear nights in the moonlight in winter, sitting with their legs folded under them like a cat – like they were waiting for something. LeGarde’s friend told her, “When we see them like that at night it is because the rabbits are watching over us, over a sleeping world and our dreams.”

Here in the north, we have two kinds of rabbits: cottontails like Tator Tot and snowshoe hares, which are larger and turn white in winter. Rabbits in the moonlight reminded me of one of my favorite chapters in northland author Sigurd Olson’s book, “The Singing Wilderness,” about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It’s the chapter called “Moon Madness,” where he recounts seeing hares on his moonlight walks.

“If, when the moon is bright, you station yourself near a good rabbit swamp and stay quiet, you may see it, but you will need patience and endurance, for the night must be cold and still. Soon they begin to emerge, ghostly shadows with no spot of color except the black of their eyes. Down the converging trails they come, running and chasing one another up and down the runways, cavorting crazily in the light.”

Olson concluded that moonlight “made animals and men forget for a little while they seriousness of living; that there were moments when life could be good and play the natural outlet for energy.”

It’s comforting to think of rabbits or hares cavorting crazily in the darkness or quietly keeping watch. I never saw Tator Tot or the Tiny Tots at night because I was, well, sleeping. Perhaps I never saw them because the magic they worked was so effective.

When I emerged from my office building in Superior yesterday evening, I was thinking about all this. As I walked, who scampered across the parking lot pavement not ten feet from me? A big fluffy cottontail. She looked suspiciously like Tator Tot.

Author Appearance this Weekend

The “Going Coastal” anthology sporting its snazzy Northeastern MN Book Awards seal.

Hi – this Saturday (10/16) I’ll be selling books at the Twin Cities Book Festival from noon-2 p.m. Look for me at the Metropolitan Library Service Agency table. I’ll have copies of “Going Coastal” (a Lake Superior short story anthology written by Lake Superior locals, including me) and “Plover Landing,” my eco-mytic-romance novel.

Free Poetry Book!

I’ve posted several times about the “River of Poems” project on my blog. I’d like to let you know we (as in Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Lake Superior Reserve) finally got around to publishing this book of river poems from poets around the world.

To refresh your memory, in 2020, we sent out a call for river poems for The River Talks speaker series we hold with the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. Poets were offered the opportunity to read their poems via Zoom during one of the River Talk monthly presentations.

Poets from across the world responded. With help from a judging committee, we narrowed the pool to a dozen poets, who read their works in March 2021 in conjunction with the St. Louis River Summit. The event was so moving, and the poems so well received, we created a publication to showcase them. “A River of Poems,” is now available as a free download.

In “I Held Us on for 36 Hours After the Levee Broke to Hell,” Heather Dobbins tells the story of a family who spends the night atop a phone pole to escape a raging river.

In “Catching Your Drift,” Lorraine Lamey highlights the subtle humor in natural resource regulations for a river in Montana.

Poet Ron Riekki shares how water can be an antidote for PTSD from war in “It Took a Long Time to Discover.”

A river in Detroit burns in Derold Sligh’s “Rouge River” poem, heralding a cry for environmental and social justice.

Download the book here.

Turning a Magazine Story into a Poem

My poem, “Ojibwe Horses” was just published in “The Nemadji Review,” a literary magazine published by students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. If you’d like to read my poem, look for it on page 8 in the PDF found here. As far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that a horse is on the cover.

You may recall that I wrote a story about this rare breed of horses for “Lake Superior Magazine.” (Read about that process here.) It’s become one of my missions lately to increase public awareness about these lovely animals and their plight. To expand the reach of my magazine story, I decided to write a poem based on it. I had never done this before. Shrinking a 2,560-word story into a 290-word poem was not easy! But it was a fun exercise and it reminded me about the differences between poetry and prose. How could I distill the essence of my experience with the horses? How could I offer captivating images and feelings? What was most important to say?

Getting the poem to this point took several rewrites, one rejection, and more rewrites, but I think it works. I sent it to one of the Ojibwe horse owners who I interviewed for my story, and she loved it, which is the best compliment I could ever hope for.

This is the first time I’ve been published in “The Nemadji Review.” We had a virtual book launch reading for the journal recently. Seeing the young crew who worked on it made me feel like the love of literature is alive and well in the next generation. It will be exciting to follow the careers of these talented students.

Back in the early-1980s, I was part of a group of students at the University of Minnesota who started a literary magazine for undergraduates. To the best of my recollection, we named it “Undercurrents.” It was a small publication, 5 x 7 inches, with a blue cardstock cover and a stapled binding. It contained art, poetry, and stories.

I only worked on the first issue. I can’t remember if “Undercurrents” continued after that or not. I think I stopped participating because I wasn’t satisfied with the process we used to choose the journal content. The process probably wasn’t objective enough for me, or maybe poems I really liked didn’t make the cut, or maybe both! But that initial experience is probably what made me comfortable stepping up to coordinate literary contests later in life for the Lake Superior Writers group.

I just did a search, and the U of MN has a literary journal for undergraduates now, called “Tower.” I’m glad to see what we started has continued, even if it has a different name now.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the poem. And if you’re a writer, I would encourage you to connect with local community colleges and universities – many open submissions to their literary journals to community members, not only students. It’s a way to support learning by students and could lead to a nice publication credit on your literary resume.

The Path of Totality

Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

Remember the 2017 eclipse? It was a big deal in the U.S. since it covered such a large swath of the land.  Here in Minnesota we were not in “the path of totality” — the area that would be totally darkened by the moon blocking the sun. But I was still hopeful we’d see something memorable.

Alas, we did not. It was cloudy that day. The sky darkened enough during the eclipse so that the streetlights came on near my office, and that was it. After all the media hype, the event itself was disappointing.

However, I did take away something memorable, and that was the title for a new short story. I loved the ring of “The Path of Totality.” I even mentioned to my Facebook friends that it would make a great title for a story. It didn’t take me long to realize that I should be the one to write that story.

The idea coalesced during a workshop I took about a year later from William Kent Krueger, a New York Times bestselling author from Minnesota. Mr. Krueger is just a peach of a guy – very down-to-earth and willing to help other writers. The class had something to do with the differences between fictional narrative and plot. As part of it, he had us write opening lines for a story. I was thinking about the path of totality title when I wrote what eventually became:

The problem with Justin Kincaid’s eyes began on August 21, 2017. On a dusty hillside in Oregon, the curve of the moon’s shoulder nudged away pieces of the sun. The crowd of people hurried to don their cardboard eclipse glasses. But to Justin, the sun still shone as whole and bright as ever.

Intriguing, yes? Why can’t this man see this celestial event like everyone else? What in his life is blinding him to it?

The story is one of a series I am working on with the theme of deceiving appearances. I am happy to report I am almost done with the final story! Plus, my ‘Path of Totality’ story was chosen for publication in the “Thunderbird Review,” a literary journal published by the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

If you’d like to hear more of the story, please consider attending the virtual launch party for the journal. I will be reading an excerpt along with other writers in the journal. I’m sure they’ll also offer info about how to purchase a copy of the journal, too. The event is happening Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. Central Time via Zoom. Details are on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2965093270398597

“Plover Landing” Featured in Culture x Climate Exhibit

Getting my novel and an excerpt ready for the exhibit.

This week in downtown Duluth, an exhibit is being installed in the Zeitgeist Arts Café lobby windows. The effort is spearheaded by Tone Lanzillo and Phil Fitzpatrick to highlight how the creative arts can help people gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the various impacts that climate change has on our lives. It’s part of a global campaign, “Culture x Climate 2020” organized by the Climate Heritage Network in France.

Although my novel “Plover Landing” may look like it’s all about shorebird restoration, it’s about climate change in equal measure. Besides being cute as a button, the character of young Demitri has mysterious powers related to climate. Much of the story revolves around Demetri and his friends figuring out his role in the world.

When Phil approached me about submitting poems for the Culture x Climate project, I had to decline, saying I had none, but that I did have a whole novel about climate change. He encouraged me to submit an excerpt and to provide a copy of the book for the display.

Tone and Phil are putting the finishing touches on the exhibit today and it will be up all week, possibly longer. Other activities are happening, too. Zenith Bookstore and the Duluth Public Library will present books on climate change for adults and children on social media. KUMD Radio and PACT-TV will be interviewing artists and poets who are participating in this project. The Duluth/365 climate initiative, as well as other climate and environmental groups, will be posting information about various poets, artists, musicians and photographers on social media. There is a Facebook event and discussion about the creative arts community and climate change on Nov. 17. And there will be a new blog providing information on the creative arts and climate change.

As Tone said in his Duluth Reader article, “This project will hopefully illustrate how important the creative arts are to the quality of life in Duluth. And just as significantly, show how the creative arts can be used as a very valuable and meaningful tool to engage, educate and empower our citizens to address climate change.”

I am happy to be part of this. I hope you get the chance to check it out!

Book Review: Going Coastal

This review is not by me, but was written by a poet friend of mine, Jan Chronister. She reviewed “Going Coastal: An Anthology of Lake Superior Short Stories.” One of my short stories is in the book and I helped shepherd the project to life.

The “Going Coastal” anthology sporting its snazzy Northeastern MN Book Awards seal.

Full disclosure: we exchanged books for honest reviews. You can find my review of “Decenia,” Jan’s book of poetry, on Goodreads.

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I’m a poet and rarely write poems longer than a page, so I find short stories intimidating. The stories in Going Coastal proved to me what I have been missing as a reader. Not only am I awed by the talent and craft it takes to create such prize-winning stories, but the time I invested in reading the anthology has rewarded me with new knowledge and insights.

Especially impressive are two young authors, Teresa Allison-Price and Maxwell Reagan, whose stories are their first published pieces. Without reading their bios, I would never have guessed this fact. After reading Johnna Suihkonen’s “What a Fire Weighs,” I will never look at an agate the same way again. Her metaphorical piece with its poetic feel reached out to me. Marie Zhuikov’s “Water Witch” kept me mesmerized with its well-paced narrative and intriguing subject matter. “The Urge for Going” should be required reading for anyone planning a trip up the North Shore. Following in the steps of Phil Fitzpatrick’s protagonist will deepen the experience and give every stop special meaning.

Two stories brought me to tears. I have always felt the natural world was where we should worship and Evan Sasman’s “The Painting” reinforced my belief. “Superior Mordant” by Judy Budreau pulled me in and had well-developed characters I could relate to.

Eric Chandler’s “The Heart Under the Lake” could only be written by someone who loves Lake Superior and the lands around it. It is a satisfying, well-crafted coming of age story that blends science with verbal artistry and maritime history. It was a delight to read.

I sensed autobiographical elements in many of these stories. That, admittedly, is one reason writers write. Another reason, perhaps not always acknowledged, is that they hope to enable readers to discover (or rediscover) thoughts and emotions that are often hidden under the cares of daily living. I’m glad I spent time with this collection that fosters self-reflection through superb short stories.