Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Beneath the Cottonwood Trees at the River

How good it is to have a line of light at the horizon again as we get up. 

It's like shaking off hibernation to have the earlier sunrise. Hugely appreciated is the setback of our clocks to central standard time.

In time it will be back to dark at 8 AM as days shorten. In the surfeit of the holiday season the late arrival of sunrise doesn't seem as big a deal as now in the industry and energy of fall. So for our newly returned light I am grateful.

Snow comes in later today with totals of 1-4." Weekend temperatures being mild, and foliage remaining surprisingly vivid, we took a drive down the Mississippi River where color is hanging on even better than here. 

The orange, red and brown patchwork  of the wooded bluffs, and the bright yellow leaves of the birch trees in Frontenac State Park above Lake Pepin, made us glad we fit in the color tour which otherwise eluded us as we got busy with October things.

The river road was a coincidental but appropriate prelude to the next thing enjoyed. We had a chance to hear Garrison Keillor. It was at a book signing. 

His new book O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound brought out an appreciative fan base which included us.

Keillor is famously known for A Prairie Home Companion and his Lake Wobegon monologues but it's geographical connection in particular that draws me to his works.

He grew up near the Mississippi River not so far from where our kids were raised. Their play was, in many ways, not very different from his time of youth. 

Although his fields had given way to rows of suburban homes, in which we came as young families to have our piece of land as part of the American dream, the river which marks the eastern boundaries was unchanging. 

The river put something of its timeless quality into the neighborhoods - and I like to think, into the children who grew up there.

Keillor sometimes in those years wrote articles for our big city paper. His pieces may have been on the Opinion page. This I recall less than the interest with which I seized upon any column with his byline.

My favorite articles were his writings about his boyhood in Brooklyn Park. It was essentially country then. 

He biked past cornfields, whiled away hours roaming and exploring and spent extensive time in thought under the big cottonwoods on the banks of the river. 

At the book signing we learned more of his early days. It was a time when a boy could go up in the Foshay Tower, the tallest building in the Twin Cities, and from the top see the countryside that lay about. 

From Hopkins to the west, to the truck farms and potato farms of his area to the north, the city had not yet engulfed the rural.

As a young person (perhaps to earn money for college - he didn't specify) he worked on those farms. He came to know the ache in the small of the back that comes with labor on a potato farm.

Keillor is funny. That's no surprise. It's how clever spills from him that gives him his genius. Clearly it's as natural to him to be quietly humorous as it is to breathe. 

He talks of walks to the school bus in those far off days when the winter elements conditioned you. 

He refers to blizzards in which you couldn't see your hands in front of you. He held up his hands commenting their distance to his face was even closer when he was small.

He tells of school never being canceled. He says this is why Minnesotans are good spellers. 

With school never closing due to weather (his school was Anoka), every lesson plan was carried out, including the emphasis on making excellent spellers out of us.

It was a most enjoyed presentation. Even got my picture with him!

Ro Giencke
November 5, 2013

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