Historical Inquiry/Historical Iniquity

While reading “The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became U.S. Property” by historian Martin Case (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018), I began thinking about the homesteads of my maternal great-grandparents, the Blixes and the Johnsons. On both sides, they settled on rocky, inhospitable tracts in Nora Township, south of Bagley, Minnesota.

The western edge of Nora Township lay only a few miles from the White Earth Reservation eastern boundary. On the Blix side, Albert and Anna arrived in 1901. Did they have interactions with residents of White Earth? Having themselves come from far-northern Norway, and being of probable Sami extraction, did they feel a kinship with the indigenous people of the area?

IMG_4643
Undated post card sent to Arthur Blix by his future wife, Nora Township neighbor Mathilda Johnson.

Much of the White Earth land was sold to timber companies, land development companies, and individuals who had the money to invest. The injustice of the treaty system rankles and questions remain. My ancestors lived on land transformed from hunting and fishing grounds, formerly inhabited by people for whom land as “private property” was unthinkable. The future of the Ojibway people of White would be challenging.

img_4639.jpg
From Clearwater County Atlas, 1912, showing 160 acres solely owned by by Anna Blix.

Not that life was easy for the homesteaders. After the Blix family settled in Nora Township, husband and father Albert was committed to the Minnesota Hospital for the Insane in St. Peter, where he died in 1915. Meanwhile, Anna Blix raised sons Arthur, James, and Erven (spelling varies), managed a farm, and served as postmistress and secretary to the school board.

My mother remembers Anna, her grandmother, as small and stern. She raised her sons strictly, punishing Arthur for chasing a rabbit on Sunday. She was a Christian of the stoic variety, interesting, since organized religion came late to northern Norway, where they followed their own spiritual traditions well after the rest of Europe succumbed to the missionaries.

Great-uncle Erven died early in World War I, a radio operator who went down with the ship. My grandfather Arthur died at the Crookston tuberculosis sanatorium at age 49. Great-uncle James never married, remained in the small homestead house built by his parents, and was found lying dead on the kitchen floor in his mid-sixties.

IMG_4642
Undated photo of Albert Martin Blix, who died at the Minnesota Hospital for the Insane in 1915.

Political institutions, religious hierarchies, financial institutions, and corporate entities tend to obscure their real goals behind a mask of caring for the needs of those they supposedly serve. As “The Relentless Business of Treaties” make clear, there is nothing new under the sun, nor in the penumbra of disguised motives.

Creating a World

book page
Creating a World

As one writes a novel, letter by letter, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, people say things, do things, see things and feel things. Babies are born. People get sick; they recover or die. Characters are created and take on a reality of their own.

Each of us, second by minute by hour by day by month by year, write our own life story. We each create our world, including places, people, communication, and action. While a novelist controls the life span of characters, our own personal comedic drama unfolds in an unknown span of time.

Over many years of counseling hospice patients and their families (work from which I retired to focus on writing), I learned that no one regrets saying, “yes” to adventure, or to healing broken relationships, or to foregoing material pursuits for the sake of personal integrity and well-being. At the end of life, what matters is quality of relationships, and the sense of peace with where one stands spiritually. By this I don’t mean religiosity; this can actually present a hinderance to a peaceful end, through a sense of guilt or fear.

What I mean is “being right with the world”. Knowing that one has done more good than harm, that we have forgiven ourselves and others for mistakes, that we have asked pardon for the harm we have done others, that we took chances and lived fully and fearlessly.

Today is The Day, friends. Let’s each write a story of love, kindness, laughter, acceptance, and adventure.

 

 

Dipped and Debris 2422 Central Ave. NE

img_4082-e1543602771661.jpg
Judging by the photo above, you can imagine my astonishment at having missed this establishment during my exploratory/gustatory journey up Central NE. Seriously! It looks like a lost circus tent, plopped between Durango Bakery and Sen Yai Sen Lek.

From one of the counter servers, I learn that Dipped and Debris has been open for 7 weeks, which is about the time I observed its blue and white striped presence. Looking back at the blogs, my visits to restaurants on that particular block pre-date Dipped and Debris. Whew. What is now D & D formerly was the south half of Sen Yai Sen Lek. I’m not sure what the story is with that transformation.

IMG_4083As to the name, it plays on the fact that the two featured menu items are the “Dipped”, a beef sandwich dipped in gravy (which my dining companion ordered, more on that later) and “Debris”, described as tasty bits of roast beef on a French loaf. They also sell frozen custard, another factor on the “Dipped” side.

IMG_4086One orders at the counter. In addition to sandwiches and ice cream, there are small bags of chips and beverages available.

Let’s start with the good news. I order the “Pseudo Fowl”, described as a Mock Duck Po Boy garnished with cabbage, pickled carrots, mushroom gravy, on a crispy French loaf. While the bread does not hold up to the contents, it tastes fabulous. I would definitely get this again. Now the less good news. My friend Judy orders the “Dipped” with gravy on the side, and is disappointed to be served a pile of roast beef on a roll. Nothing but meat and bread. I must concur that the sandwich appears rather stark. Down the road, the owners might consider including a side of good slaw and a few chips, along with sturdier bread.

IMG_4084

Lest this sound excessively critical, Judy said the beef is tasty, and as noted, my mock duck sandwich tastes yummy. The sound level is comfortable, and the business, take-out and eat-in, flows steady. Seating-wise, diners may choose amongst low tables, high-top tables, and stools at the window counter.

A future visit, which I envision happening on that first really warm day in spring when one’s fancy turns to thoughts of frozen desserts, will include a Pseudo Fowl redux, followed by a bowl of custard with an extravagant array of toppings.

///

From The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, “Beware irony, ignore criticism, look to what is simple, study the small and humble things of the world, do what is difficult precisely because it is difficult, do not search for answers but rather love the questions, do not run away from sadness or depression for these might be the very conditions necessary to your work. Seek solitude, above all, seek solitude.”

Truth Box

DSC00895

Once upon a time, on a morning of sunshine, cool air, birdsong, and green smells I hit the pedals biking east on the smoothly tarred Columbia Road out from my long ago hometown. After riding a strong ten or twelve miles, I crest a hill, pausing to gaze and eat a granola bar. A long drink from the water bottle and it’s time to head back toward town. A mile or so down the road, on the right, I spot a cardboard box on the gravel shoulder. Curious, I stop to check out the contents. The box, though open as if receptive to whatever is offered, stands entirely empty. My attention is arrested by a word stamped on the side of the box in two-inch high black letters. “Truth.”

I make mental note of the exact location, in relation to pond, power line, and fence post.

Later my mom and I drive east on the Columbia Road. As we travel, my mom questions my desire to retrieve a cardboard box from the side of the road.

“What’s in it?” she asks.

“Nothing,” I reply.

“I have a lot of nice boxes in the basement,” she sensibly responds.

“Yeah, but this one has truth stamped on it,” I said.

At this she gives up, accustomed as she is by years of experience with my inscrutable eccentricities.

In truth, I collect the box to photograph it.

Why am I so keen on the box?

As I had continued on my ride home, I puzzled over what might have been packed in a box marked “Truth.  It occurred to me that whatever had been packed inside certainly was not truth because truth can never be put in a box. Far closer to truth was the present contents–nothing.

No-thing at all.

The great spiritual geniuses all teach emptiness–Buddha, Jesus, Isaac Luria, Meister Eckhart, Lao-Tze, the list could go on. From these blessed ones we learn that truth doesn’t reside in things, in ideas, in anything that can be written in a book, or shaped by a pair of hands.

Truth is found in emptiness, in the spaces between the words, in the silence, in the still small voice nudging us toward the good, the realization that all is one. Since this life is full of sound and object, of apparent separation, truth can only be approximated. As I biked, what I saw and heard and smelled came as close to truth as anything on earth. The sky. Flowing water. A red-winged blackbird. A beaver lodge in middle of a pond. Nothing that can be put in a box.

Truth is peace, the peace found in the empty and still.

(Here’s a link to the actual Truth Box story: https://www.truth.com/about/history.cfm)

Righting

art astronomy atmosphere aurora borealis

My sentence of the week: “Writer as wright, creatively righting.”

To those who are writers, or who want to be writers, or who are passionate readers and interested in the process of writing, I pose a question.

Why write?

In face of the terrifying mass of books published each year, added to those written in the past, to say nothing of those completed only to moulder unaccepted in the file of a frustrated writer’s office, why?

As implied by the title chosen for this posting, and by my absurdly unquotable quote, in this moment, at 2:30 p.m. on a Monday, sitting in the New Brighton Public Library, sharing the room with two elderly gentlemen reading newspapers, I posit that the purpose of spending one’s precious time as a writer lies in the creative construction of a reality which serves in some way to right the world as it exists in the exact moment of creation.

Writing is a deeply contextual process undertaken by a human mind, living in a specific place and time, with a unique history and present moment circumstance. Whether a writer is creating fiction or non-fiction, it inevitably springs forth filtered through that individual’s reality.

Why should you write? Because no one else is you and if the desire won’t leave you alone, you have a story to tell. So get with it!

 

 

 

Change of Seasons

img_0812.jpgOn November 6th I had a milestone birthday. On the 7th I resigned my position as a hospice spiritual care coordinator. A few days later, a friend asked me I how felt. My response, “Exultant.” Singingly, dancingly, giddily, ridiculously happy. Not that I had disliked my work with hospice patients and families. I loved hearing their stories and helping them toward acceptance of the inevitable, helping them make peace with the situation, and at times, with each other. However, the hospice work, demanding on several levels, kept me from doing that for which I longed with my mind, heart, and soul.

Closing a door opens new opportunities. What I am feeling two weeks later is a deep sense of  shalom. Inner and outer peace. Four hours a day, six days a week, I have been typing words into my laptop. Words forming sentences, forming paragraphs, forming pages, forming chapters, forming (God willing) completed, published books that will bring light, humor, hope, and entertainment to readers.

The book I am working on at present is the first in a series of three. Number two is also partially written, Number three is sketched out. Another book, begun long ago, is also still alive in my mind and in a file. And I can envision writing a non-fiction work based on my Central Avenue NE blogs, maybe focused on the fascinating Thorp Building. This should keep my busy for a few decades.

This past Friday I had the privilege of hearing Chris Koza perform with his band at the Landmark Center. In my opinion, Chris is a musical genius and deserves huge concert  audiences and record sales. But no matter how talented the individual, be she musician, visual artist, actor, or writer, the road is challenging. Only the very few are “successful” as the world measures success. The recipe for succeeding as an artist may require luck, connections, or the ability to appeal to common tastes. Throughout history there have been millions of unremembered, uncelebrated creative artists, starting with the pre-historic cave painters. At least their works endure. Were there also musicians, dancers, dramatic performers in ages long past? 

Even though the work remains unrecognized and unappreciated, or vanishes with time, perhaps the spirit of all artistry endures. Is that what gives us the courage to do our work? Is this the source of what we experience as inspiration, that sense the the work produced comes from somewhere beyond ourselves? 

Friends, fearlessly pursue what you love. Make the necessary sacrifices. Take the leap. And let me know how it goes for you.

aerial photo of mountain surrounded by fog