When is a Bridge a Bong?

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The Bong Bridge as seen from the water.

I was giving directions to an out-of-town acquaintance the other day when I told them they’d need to drive over the Bong Bridge. They looked at me, wide-eyed, and started snickering.

Yes, it’s true. In Duluth-Superior we have a bridge by the name of Bong. The Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge, to be exact. It’s named after a World War II flying ace, but out-of-towners and the uninitiated don’t know that. The name always provokes some kind of reaction.

I was away at college when the bridge was being built and named in the early 1980s. Whenever I returned home and drove on the freeway down the hill into town, I would notice more bridge pillars in the harbor as it slowly came into being. I can’t recall if there was a lot of controversy about the name, but I assume there must have been some.

Although the name is a nice tribute to a local war hero, the people who thought up the name HAD to know it would get shortened to just “Bong Bridge” or just “Bong” in the local vernacular. After all, we have another bridge that spans the same body of water, which is named after John A. Blatnik. Everybody just calls it the “Blatnik.”

“Take the Blatnik to Superior,” we say. Now we can also say, “Take the Bong to Superior.” Most locals know that won’t get you into trouble with the law.

It’s just such a questionable name. I can’t believe it got through the transportation department’s approval process. But Richard Bong must have had a big fan club that overwhelmed common sense when it came to bridge names.

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A mural of Richard Bong and his wife Marge from the Bong Museum in Superior.

We even have a Bong Museum. But it doesn’t contain what you think it might. Not even one. I know. I checked.

The name does make the Bong Bridge easy to remember, I’ll say that for it. While it’s confusing having two bridges that start with a “B” in the area, differentiating between them is easy. The Blatnik is the bridge closest to Lake Superior and it’s named for a guy. Then there’s the other bridge farther inland that’s named for drug paraphernalia.

Maybe the name was a good idea, after all?

It’s Christmas on Easter!

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A book project I’ve been working on for about a year-and-a-half is complete! Copies of the book arrived this weekend, so I feel like it’s Christmas even though it’s really Easter.

The book is called “Going Coastal.” It’s an anthology of Lake Superior-inspired short stories written by nine local (northeastern MN and northern WI) authors, including myself. My story, “Water Witch,” is the first short story I’ve ever written, so I feel honored that it’s included.

All of the writers are members of Lake Superior Writers, a local nonprofit group that “supports the artistic development of writers and fosters a vibrant literary arts community.” Proceeds from book sales support this group.

The idea for the anthology started with a conversation I had with the manager of a bookstore in Duluth.  She asked me what I was working on and I told her “short stories.” She said, “You know what customers come in and ask me for? Short stories about Lake Superior. I have to tell them I don’t have any.”

**Bing** Lake Superior Writers has an annual contest. What if we made the contest theme this year about Lake Superior? And what if we were able to find a publisher for the stories? And what if the book could be sold in this bookstore? (And others, of course.)

I’m a board member of the group and brought the idea up at a meeting where we were discussing the contest. The other board members thought it was a great idea, too. And a project was born. After the contest was over and the judges had chosen the winning stories, I started contacting publishers about the project. Several were interested, but I ended up going with North Star Press, the publisher of my novels.

The name of the writing contest was “Going Coastal,” and the board thought that was also a good name for the anthology, and so did the publisher, so it stuck. Then came the need for a cover image. I’m on Facebook probably way more than is healthy for me, and I recalled seeing an image there by a local photographer who often gets into Lake Superior to take his photos. His stunning photo showed the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse seemingly swamped by a large Lake Superior wave. Perfect!

I worked with the authors to edit their stories, and then needed to decide how to organize them in the anthology. I offered the other board members the opportunity to help with this task (which was new to me) but they said I could have the “honor.”

Shoot – how was I ever going to decide? Well, a couple of the stories had Native American themes in them. Some were more mystical than others. A couple focused on ships. A couple others were about rocks. One was about a lighthouse. Another was about a family drama and had a super strong ending. Some stories were short, others were long.

I finally decided to organize them along themes, but I also kept story length in mind and tried to switch that up for variety. Figuring out the story order was as much an art as writing one of the stories itself, and was a fun exercise. I hope it worked.

If you like lighthouses, ships, beaches, ghosts, road trips, history, storms, agates, islands, family drama, and the mystical power of Lake Superior, you’ll enjoy this book.  It costs $12.95 and is available from North Star Press, but also Barnes and Noble and Amazon, which have it as an e-book, too. Take a read!

Anthology authors are Theresa Allison-Price of Superior; James Brakken of Cable; Evan Sasman of Ashland, Johnna Suihkonen of Lakeville; and Judy Budreau, Eric Chandler, Phil Fitzpatrick, Maxwell Reagan and me of Duluth.

We’re having a book launch sponsored by The Bookstore at Fitger’s on Sat., April 29 from 4-6 p.m. in the August Fitger Room on the third floor of Fitger’s Mall (600 E. Superior St., Duluth). There will be free appetizers from The Boat Club Restaurant and a cash bar. Each author (except for one who can’t make it) will read from their story.

Come on out and keep that Christmas spirit going through April!

Why Sea Grant is a Kick-Ass Program (And Not Just Because I Work There)

Wi Point Ladies 2016 003We interrupt all these dreams of Aruba to insert some harsh (but hopefully entertaining and educational) reality. You may recall from my recent pancake recipe posting that President Trump has zeroed out the National Sea Grant Program that I work for in his proposed budget for 2018.

If that weren’t worrisome enough, he just recently he proposed drastic cuts to Sea Grant and other environmental and health and human services programs in 2017 in order to find funds to build the wall between Mexico and the U.S. You remember his beloved wall, don’t you? The one that Mexico was supposed to pay for (and like it)?

If Congress grants his request, Sea Grant would be gone – maybe as soon as May or August of this year, and I will be out of a job.

Maybe you’re wondering what a “Sea Grant” is. Sea Grant is a kick-ass program that funnels federal money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to universities in 33 states across the U.S. The money goes to university researchers for water studies and to people like me who let taxpayers know about the research results through the media and through other local communications outlets.

Our staff and researchers also develop tools that people can use for things like growing fish, protecting their towns from a messed-up climate, keeping invasive animals and plants out of their local lake, fixing up polluted swimming beaches, making seafood safe to eat and water safe to drink.

UWI_SeaGrant_logo_cyanI work as a writer for the Sea Grant program in Wisconsin. Why is there an ocean program in Wisconsin, you ask? Because the Great Lakes are the freshwater equivalent of oceans (Sweetwater Seas). As water sources for millions of people and home to one of the world’s largest economies, it makes sense to pay attention to the Great Lakes and to put money into understanding them and protecting them.

Nationally, Sea Grant has been around for over fifty years. The federal dollars ($67.3 million) that come into the states are matched by the universities.

One reason it’s a kick-ass program is that in 2015 alone, the work done nationally with these dollars led to an 854% economic return on investment (Turned $67.3 million into $575 million in the communities in which we work). I bet none of President Trump’s business ventures have provided such a huge impact. Seems like a bad idea to cut such a successful program.

We’ve restored over 127,000 acres of degraded ecosystems. We trained almost 2,000 people how to keep seafood safe to eat. We offered about 900 classes to people living on coastlines on how to improve their community’s resilience to storms. We also supported training and funding for 2,000 students who are the next generation of water scientists.

In Wisconsin alone, our programs save lives. Our Sea Caves Watch program, which warns kayakers about wave conditions in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has prevented deaths. Since it went online about seven years ago, no deaths have happened. Before, there was about one death every year. Seven people might not seem like a lot – but every person counts!

Last year, a boater who saw our video about “ghost nets” (abandoned nets lost in the lake) and how to get out of them without capsizing, remembered what the video said when his boat got into a tangle. He credits Wisconsin Sea Grant for saving his life.

In Wisconsin, we also fund a program that helps children who are going through rough times by getting them into the water and taking pictures. The underwater photography program has changed the lives of many of them, and their photos are good enough to be in public displays and even a book. Read the children’s testimonials in the book. They will make you cry!

We find cures to fish diseases. We created over 5,000 jobs during the past two years. We helped almost 12,000 anglers or aquaculture people. We helped find out what was causing the steel pilings in the Duluth-Superior Harbor to corrode (and won a national award for it). Through our sister program, the Water Resources Institute, we are changing how the state warns people about the chemical strontium in their drinking water.

If I lose my job, I can’t take any more nice vacations and write about them for your benefit. I also will be so busy finding a job that I won’t be able to write my blog any more, or my fiction.

So, if you give a rip, please email your Congressperson right away. Tell them to reject the Administration’s proposal in the Fiscal Year 2017 Security Supplemental that would cut the National Sea Grant College Program by $30 million. Also, please ask them to reject the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 proposal to zero out and terminate the Sea Grant program (for all the reasons I’ve just mentioned).

I had an interesting discussion with someone at my church about President Trump. She said she was finding it very hard to love him in a spiritual sort of way. I told her that I don’t like what Trump stands for, but I do like that he’s making us fight for what’s important. It’s definitely not politics as usual.

The only weapons I have to fight this with are my words. I hope you will join your words with mine to preserve a program that makes much more sense for this country than a wall with Mexico. For more information, please see the Sea Grant Association’s website (FY 2017 and FY 2018 documents).

Thank you for your support. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Gathering of the Orbs

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A girl and her orb.

Today is the time when all the ice orbs for the Lake Superior Ice Festival are gathered. The orbs I contributed are the colored ones in the photos (and in the bucket).

The water is frozen in water balloons, and the balloons are removed later. A group of Headstart children from Superior, Wis., participated in this community art collaborative, and it was so fun to see them enjoying the outdoors and learning about water and ice.

dsc03803City of Superior staff are arranging the orbs in the shape of Lake Superior in the city park on Barker’s Island to highlight the importance of fresh water. Each orb represents a day that water is important to us. The goal is to create 365 of them to represent a year.

Take a moment to consider how important fresh water is to you!

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My bucket o’ orbs.

Wisconsin Public Radio Interview – Holiday Reads

love-books-1Greetings! I had the privilege of being interviewed last week on the local Wisconsin Public Radio affiliate, along with Julie Gard, a poetry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and Julie Buckles, the public relations person for Northland College in Ashland, Wis.

The show is hosted by Danielle Kaeding, now a full-fledged reporter for KUWS Radio (91.3 FM), who assisted me when she was but a college student and I had a radio show for work. Danielle hosts “Hear Me Out,” an hour-long show every Friday morning. She asked us what books we recommend for holiday gifts and holiday reading. (During all that spare time you have during holiday break – right!?)

In my role on the board of Lake Superior Writers (a local writers’ group), I always like to feature our member writers and other local authors when the topic of books comes up. And this interview was no exception. Between the three of us, we hit many of the most recent books produced locally. I only wish we would have had more time to highlight even more authors.

Our interview is featured in the first half-hour of the show. You can listen here.

Oh, and if you need a little romance during your holiday, don’t forget about my books.

Happy Reading!

The Lighthouse Tour That Wasn’t

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Michigan Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior. Note the waves crashing on the dock.

This weekend I revisited the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, in hopes of getting a look inside one of the lighthouses.

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The gunmetal grey sweetwater sea that is Lake Superior.

I awoke at 5 a.m. (which for me, who likes to sleep late, is not as easy as it sounds), drove two hours in the rain to meet my friends and catch a boat, and spent an hour or so staving off seasickness on a roiling Lake Superior, only to hear the boat’s captain say they couldn’t dock at the lighthouse because it was too wavy.

But we could take distant pictures of the lighthouse. So that’s all I’ve got for you!

As our consolation prize, the captain ferried us to nearby Stockton Island, where we romped for a while before returning to Bayfield on the boat. I’ve been to Stockton Island three times now (see story from last year), so some of its magic has dimmed with repetition. But I confess that wandering around on Julian Bay (on the non-windy side of the island) was like experiencing a break in the space-time-weather continuum. The water was warm, the sky blue, and eagles coasted lazily on the calm breeze.

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A bear track? Or a bare track? Julian Bay Beach on Stockton Island.

Afterwards, we walked to the boat dock to catch our ride back, not caring that we missed a lighthouse tour.

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Radio Interview About Writing

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Me doing my radio thang.

Hello! I was interviewed earlier this month by for a show on the local Wisconsin Public Radio affiliate station, KUWS. The show is called the “Nine O’Clock Meltdown, ” and it’s hosted by “Simply C,” who I met at an open mic poetry reading.

She allowed me gobs of time on her show to talk about my novels, writing, and creativity in general. The file is so large, she had to divide it into two parts so I could post it. Give a listen to find out what I’m up to in my writing life…

Part 1

Part 2