Minnesota and Me

18 Oct

The bird bath has dried up from all the wind and I really must disassemble it and shove it under the deck as the only creature using it now is the cat (“Yummmm…the world’s largest water dish.”) and she’s sure to break it one of these days in her acrobatic leaps from the deck.

We’ve put the hoses in the shed, all drained and freeze-proof. The tomato cages are lying on the shelf beside the empty flower pots. I dug up my two amaryllis bulbs and they’re drying out, waiting to be doomed to the furnace room for the next several months. One of them should be fine…the other one seems to have lost its roots and I’m fairly certain that keeping it is foolish, but I’m an optimist.

My solar-powered frog has died a noble death, though he still looks cute sitting on the deck. In the winter, with a beard of snow, we call him Dumbledore. Or Gandolf. Depending on which O’Donnell you ask. I can’t bear to banish him to the shed…I need something hopeful to look at when the temperatures have reached obscene levels and the dirt road we live on is snowed in like The Shores of Silver Lake and I’m Laura Ingalls.

Dumbledore...aka Gandolf...sans his beard.

The longest we’ve been trapped here waiting for the snow plow is three days. Yes, in modern America. Lucy was one week old. Luckily she was born two weeks early or I could have really gotten to understand pioneer life far more than I ever wanted to.

The tremendous bummer about this time of year – the thing that makes even a confirmed optimist cringe – is the knowledge that there are five months of winter yet to come. But, bizarrely, I’m looking forward to the first snow. If only the first would be the last! There’s something fun about the first snow. The first fire in the fireplace. The first time I wear a scarf legitimately rather than acsessoristicly. (Try finding that in the dictionary!) Any snow after that is just mean-spirited.

Just a cool Fall picture from the neighborhood.

BUT…and I mean this with all sincerity…I chose this life. I like Minnesota, where the only mountains (at least in my neck of the woods) are actually just clouds on the horizon, taunting me with their faux-snow-covered peaks. I have fallen for this trick of theirs more than once. “Look!” I’ll think, my heart leaping disloyally. “The mountains are out!” And then my brain catches up with my heart. “Oh. Never mind. Shoot.”

I miss real mountains. And real ocean. When I first moved to the Duluth area, I stared in dumbfounded shock at the people who said, “Oh, you must love Lake Superior! It’s just like the ocean!” After smiling weakly at these kindly-but-misguided attempts at helping me feel at home, I would walk away thinking, “These people have obviously never been to the sea.” And somehow all their words just made me sad. Lake Superior – while being a very cool/beautiful/impressive body of water and I really, really like it – is NOT the ocean! It doesn’t smell right! It doesn’t have tides that strand you on the rocks if you keep your back turned too long, or tide pools teaming with creepy-crawly life or Bull Kelp that you gather up and make pickles from…at least if you’re really adventurous, you do.

I miss those things terribly. Around here the only sea breezes come from my air freshener and the starfish are all named Patrick and are drawn by some dude in a studio somewhere in California, ad nauseum, ad infinitum, amen.

But, thankfully, there’s this great invention called the airplane. And I have come to realize that it can take me – often for free, thanks to my husband’s air miles – to those gorgeous, mountain-filled paradises. So long as I can get to the airport through the raging blizzards. (Yes. I speak from experience. Several experiences, in fact.)

The thing is, if I’m willing to admit to the absolute truth, the Pacific Northwest is not perfect either, and, truly, I’m not sure that I’d fit in there anymore. I’ve actually lived AWAY from there longer than I lived there. In my mind, of course, I have idealized it. Fact is, nowhere is perfect, except in memories. Or, perhaps, on the pages of a book. That’s why I’m a writer – one reason, anyway – because, when I’m making up my own world, everything is just the way I want it. (Except for those pesky characters who INSIST on turning left when you wanted them to turn right. And nothing, no-how, can force them left. People have a mind of their own – even made-up people.)

You may not be able to tell, but there's a Turkey Vulture in the trees. Some Bald Eagles migrated through, too, but I need a better lense to prove it!

And so I imagine my mountains. I hang pictures of the ocean; of my son, sandy and happy at age two, holding up a shell to his daddy at the Oregon coast. I put sea-shells on my piano and beach-glass on my desk. I bundle up. I cling to scarves like life-vests. I say “uff da” to fit in and I’ve even tried eating Lutefisk. Once. That was enough.

BUT…and let me make this perfectly clear…I will NEVER “borrow you a pencil”. (Though I’d be glad to loan you one.) Because, let’s face it, there are somethings Minnesotan that I’m willing to claim. And somethings that should just be left alone.


6 Responses to “Minnesota and Me”

  1. Andrea October 18, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    What is a solar-powered frog?

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 18, 2011 at 8:58 am #

      He was a light…emphasis on the was. That’s what all those holes in him were for!

  2. Minnesota Prairie Roots October 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Having grown up on the prairie where you now live, only 25 or so miles from Laura Ingalls’ home in Walnut Grove, I certainly understand your snowed-in reference. I remember some long stretches, too, without power due to a blizzard. I live in southeastern Minnesota now and the winters are nothing, nothing, like those on the prairie.

    By the way, I will borrow a pencil from you if you will lend me one. I dislike incorrect word usage also.

    I did like this post, though. It was thoughtful and personal and honest. Well done.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 19, 2011 at 7:32 am #

      You are so kind – thanks! I don’t think I knew exactly what I was getting into here in SW MN. I figured it would be better than Duluth because it’s further south! Well, it’s not as cold, nor does winter last quite as long…and that’s nice. My husband has relatives in Lake City and I’m always surprised when we head there, “Hey! You have eagles! You have less snow! I’m jealous!” But it’s a good area to raise our kids and that makes up for the weather. 🙂

  3. Heddi Goodrich October 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    I love your comment “the mountains are out”! I too have spent a lot of time craving to be somewhere else, particularly in another climate. Not at the moment, though, with spring here in NZ and summer on its way, while you prepare for snow. My young son dreams of being able to make a snowman, he’s only touched the white stuff once. …What’s “uff da”? ‘After’?

    By the way, I wrote this week’s post on my blog with you in mind: you’ll see what I mean as soon as you read the first line!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 22, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

      It’s definitely true that one’s attitude about where you live makes a HUGE difference in how content you are there…”Bloom where you are planted” and all that. Yes, you down south can laugh your cares away right now as you face spring and summer! I hope that your son will be able to see snow one of these days…though at his age he might not even like it!

      “Uff da” is a Swedish phrase, actually, and there are a lot of Swedes around here – at least by decendence. It means nothing more or less than “Oy, vey” or “Crikey” or “Good grief”! It’s a good, all-purpose expression of whatever you want it to mean!!!

      I can’t wait to read your post this week! I always look forward to them anyway and now I’m twice as excited!

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