Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Oh my, I'm one of my favorite books!

I thought my "wanderlust" post would be my last before departure, but we all know about swan songs; most of us have more than one. So be it. In the true manner of the internet, I was reading the latest from Molly Newman in her Picayune-Democrat blog. She has a set of links titled "Mollybloggers," blogs written by other Mollys. One of those is Molly Bloom-The Happy Booker. Are you with me so far? Okay. Molly Bloom's last blog entry linked me to one of those "which are you?" internet quizzes we all love. You know the type. What's your Ya-Ya name? Which goddess are you? What's your pirate name? Which politician are you most likely to campaign to get out of office? Oops! There went my leanings!

At any rate, this quiz asked six questions to find out which of 64 books you are. Of course, I answered the questions, though one gave me pause. It didn't ask the question "How are you with questions that have no room for compromise?" The question was "Which climate do you prefer?" and my choices were simply "hot" and "cold." Well, you live here and you get both. Like the last couple days have been 100 degrees, and in the winter, it can get nearly that cold--with wind chill. I reflected a moment and chose "cold." Without cold, my beloved cross country skiing would cease to exist. Besides, if you grow up in a place like Minnesota, you tend to develop a certain Scandinavian pride about enduring hardship, a la Garrison Keillor.

So, you've read this far and want to know which book I am? One of the first questions asked if I was long-winded or straight to the point. You don't have to guess at my answer. The result of my quiz was one of my very favorite books.

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I have always loved Richard Adams's writing, but never more than in this book. He was able to make you believe these were really talking rabbits, but still rabbits. Unlike other stories in which the animals are anthropomorphized, these rabbits are predictably rabbits, with each displaying its unique personality. Like any good story, Adams was able to wrap serious themes and truths with elegant story, so that the reader is only barely aware that this is more than a story about talking rabbits. The description of my tendencies based on the book is not too far off, either, although you could change the "talking about rabbits" to "talking about birds" and it would be spot on.

Oh, and did I mention? Until a year ago, we had a pet rabbit. Thumper. Not my name choice. My newly 7 year old son, who got the bunny for his birthday after months of writing about nothing but rabbits in his schoolwork.

Here's to a quiz in which I can believe! Which book are YOU?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Wanderlust tales

As children, my brothers and I used to complain that "we never go anywhere." We'd make trips to Duluth from our home in Minneapolis, and beg Dad to come home on the Wisconsin side, just so we could say we'd been in another state. Once or twice, he even obliged us.

My mom likes to say to us now as adults, "Hmm, for kids who'd never been out of Minnesota, you all seem to get around." True enough. In four more days, I'll be departing for my third trip as a teacher leader with People to People, on an itinerary called "Cultures of Europe." During this time, I'll ascend the Eiffel Tower, visit the Louvre and Natzweiler Concentration Camp, attend a meeting at the United Nations, and play in the Mediterranean Sea on the Spanish coast. In previous years, People to People has taken me to Australia and the United Kingdom and Ireland. I've been truly blessed to have had these opportunities, especially since I'm part of an experience that for most kids, like my own son who traveled to Australia, changes how they view the world forever.

I've been fortunate too to spend time in Kenya in short term mission with my church, living with families and taking part in everyday life, not the glamour trip of safari--though we managed to do a couple quick ones.

My brothers have been to Asia and South America. Between the three of us, we've already covered the globe, and I hope before I move on to my next rewards to see much more of it. Through travel, whether around the world or cross country, I've been offered stories I'd never have heard, been given stories I'd never have told otherwise. There is a saying that only by knowing the story of another can we understand. I'm looking forward to hearing and telling many more stories soon. Bon voyage, auf Wiedersehn, adios!

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create your own visited states map

Sunday, June 19, 2005

First impressions.....

I wish I carried a small camera with me. Were I to do this, maybe I'd even have a photo to accompany this post. Unfortunately, I don't even own a small camera, unless you count my underwater one. Hopefully my words can paint the picture for you.

I love to ride my bike. It's very fortunate I live where I do, because I'm a whole half mile from a wonderful Rails To Trails bike system. The LaCrosse River Trail runs smack dab through my town, and connects the Sparta-Elroy Trail to the Great River Trail. If I get really ambitious later today, maybe I'll ride from here to the Great River Trail. Maybe.

However, this is about the fellow I met while riding east on the trail last evening. Evening is a great time to ride. It's a bit cooler, the trail tends to have less traffic, and the light is so perfect.
Hundreds of tiny bunnies are along the trail in the distance, ready to race into the brush at your approach. Birds are settling down with one last hurrah, and you might even see a turkey run along the trail before she flies up into her roost for the night. It amazes me that a bird that big, even when watching where it roosts, can't be spotted upon reaching that stand of trees.

While enjoying all these sights, along with the tang of sarsasparilla that grows freely along this stretch, I passed an interesting looking guy. My first impression was that maybe he was a travelin' man. We do have hobos moving through, even in the 21st century. He had an older three speed bike, outfitted with a huge rear basket. That basket was loaded down with all kinds of stuff. He'd stopped to readjust things in the basket. He was one of those folks who is somewhat ageless. He wore long pants and a striped sleeveless t-shirt seen only on Greek fishermen. His head was topped by a sailor's type cap that said "St. Joseph's Something." His midriff boasted an impressive girth, one I could hardly imagine biking very far.

He was the kind of fellow people often pretend is invisible. I don't do that. As I passed, I said hello, he asked how my evening was, I told him great, how's yours, and he said "Hot." I rode on.

Down the trail a mile or two, I'd stopped with binoculars in hand to look for a meadowlark I could hear in the trailside grass. The fellow caught up with me and commented on the state of trail maintenance, or lack thereof. We discussed our tax dollars at work for a moment, then I told him what I was trying to see. Turns out this guy had been riding all day from Warrens, a good thirty-some miles further east. The trail doesn't turn that direction, so I asked how he'd gotten here. He'd started at 7am, heading to Black River, then down the state highways. He was planning to camp for the night in the town where I'd planned to turn around. I'd say this was easily a trip of 75 miles he'd made. Not a trip I'd expect someone who looked like this to be making, and he told me it was his first trip this season! I maybe made 15 miles last night, without the baggage he was carrying.

I deduced that he was a postal worker, cause he knew how many routes that small town had gained in the past four years. He shared some good birding locales with me closer to his town. We enjoyed some conversation and rest along the trail before he headed off for his night's respite.

We have become so suspicious in this world, even sometimes in small towns, like the one where I currently reside. Kids are taught "Stranger Danger," and of course this is good advice. Still, it saddens me to think of how we've boxed people into certain categories without really knowing their stories, or bothering to even hear them. Perhaps my fellow rider was a bit eccentric. So what? I'm fairly sure that the same has been said about me, more than once. Maybe I don't have the eccentric appearance, but I make up for that in other ways. I'm so glad that my world view hasn't completely narrowed to the point that I can't start a conversation with someone I've never met before. I had a long discussion with a woman who was an Olympic gymnast, till an injury knocked her off the team. This while we both sat in the Minneapolis airport, awaiting stalled flights. We could have both sat with our noses in books, but we didn't. Last summer I chatted with some of the river rats camping along the Mississippi about the wild plants they were picking and I was photographing. I regularly enjoy conversations with whoever is sitting at the next table at AJ's Java Joint. My last one was with a woman who picks a place to travel every year by opening an atlas with her eyes closed. I meet interesting people on the bike trail all the time.

Even the really weird people I've met are still just that....weird, but often interesting, people. Here's to my next chance encounter with a friendly stranger!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A storytelling side trip

This is a blog, right? Hopefully, it's a blog with some semblance of an overall theme, storytelling, right? Well, forget about that for a moment. I am going to meander off onto Tangent Road, and I do mean meander.

My husband and I celebrated 25 years of mostly wedded bliss on the 14th. In typical fashion, although Hallmark tells me this is a Significant Anniversary™, the silver one, we were fairly low key about it. Oh, it's not as if I didn't try to make it significant. My first suggestion involved going to Vegas, taking in one of the permanent Cirque shows, and getting married by a fake Elvis. Okay, yeah, that's cheesy, but it would've been fun. So I tried to look for something more our style. Hmm, how about staying at the Twin Pine Lodge on the Au Sable River in Michigan, doing a little canoeing, and just happening to catch a Kirtland's Warbler guided tour? Nope, that didn't work, either.

Really, when we look at each other, we sometimes have to ask how in the world we even got together, much less stayed together? I mean, our first date was not exactly the stuff of romance. Dick took me to his year end bowling banquet. With the guys. All guys. Guys who would do strange things like pour beer down their throats and then gargle, creating a living beer fountain. It's a wonder there even was a second date, but all either of us can figure is...someone who would choose that for a first date has to be good for entertainment value, if nothing else.

The real indicator of how unlike each other we are is our taste in music. Dick has some CDs that I can kind of tolerate. Marshall Tucker. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. A few I actually like. Led Zeppelin. Crosby Stills and Nash. (He can keep Neil Young). Definitely Santana, the vintage and the new. Van Morrison. But please, don't play yet another Grateful Dead/Old and In the Gray/Ratdog/any of the jillion incarnations of the Dead. They had one good song. "Truckin'." They should have stopped with that one!

Now Dick will say the same about my stuff. The ones on which we agree, you already know. He can't figure out any of my classical music at all, Natalie MacMaster, Loreena McKinnett, anything by Clannad, a variety of no name Celtic groups or any of my Baka CDs. Well, if the guy would travel, maybe he'd get it! In fact, he claims my music is so weird, no one has bothered to categorize it at all.

Well, he's wrong.

Thanks to a bit of random surfing today while waiting for the laundry cycle to finish so I could hang it on the line, I visited a lovely site dedicated to Michigan lighthouses. This was discovered after I linked to Lighthouse Lassie's blog on Two Peas. Her blog is cool! It has music! It has a drop down menu! One of the selections was Natalie Merchant. I didn't think I'd ever heard of her, but I liked what I heard. I bought the only CD I could find at Best Buy™---but only after I watched the Thunderbirds do an awesome flyover the store (told you I'd meander)--"Tigerlily." Well, I did know one of the songs, once I heard it.

This sent me surfing again, to see what else I could learn about her. In the process, I discovered that my kind of music has a category name, and even a website with a mailing list for similarly cultured individuals. We're Ectophiles.

So THERE, my husband of 25 years and two days!

As to our Significant Anniversary™, we ended up having dinner at Ed Sullivan's Restaurant on the river in Trempealeau, our two sons joining us. Even though we didn't do anything fancier than that, the weather presented us with a Significant Event™ while dining. Cloudbursts were happening all day, and one such downpour resulted in a lovely rainbow just outside our window.

So, it would appear my husband and I did indeed find the pot of gold when we met some 27 years ago. And I have found the other pot of gold, the one that validates my taste in music!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Why couldn't I live with this hairstyle?

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The dark side of success, at least as defined in the world of storytelling

Okay, I'll get right to the point here. The Dark Side involves bad hair, bad timing and the photo lab. That's right. Although none of these sound as if they are even remotely connected to the life of a storyteller, they are. Particularly one pursuing that elusive success thing. Part of that success thing involves the Dreaded Photoshoot.

It's really my own darn fault for allowing vanity to enter my life in even the slightest incarnation. You see, I changed my hairstyle again this spring. Had I left well enough alone, I could move on and you'd never have to read this post. For that matter, you do have a choice. You can stop reading right now, go outside and enjoy the real world. If you can't do that, read on.

I took a chance and applied to the Wisconsin Humanities Council Speakers Bureau for next year. The Council provides grants to groups throughout the state, allowing them to bring in programs on any number of topics. I submitted two program ideas, along with all the supporting materials, and both were accepted. I could hardly believe it! Next fall, interested folks will be able to find me, online and in the print directory, offering my storytelling programs on "Women of Substance" and "Stories of Tricksters and Fools" through the Council. Following acceptance into the Council, I was invited to apply for the 2006 Wisconsin Arts Board roster of touring performers and artists in education. That was cool, too.

Here's the kicker. I need to send them both a black and white head shot. Yikes! I have a nice one that was taken about a year ago--before the style change. Now that the Wisconsin weather pattern has changed to the typical river valley summer--hot and humid--I have yet to have a decent hair day, or even an okay hair day.

I have the rest of this week to hope for a chance at a decent one. They need them by the end of next week. I keep asking myself, why, for an artform that depends on listening, must I send in a Glamour Shot? Why, since I must feign glamour for a headshot, does my hair refuse, despite every known form of styling aid, to behave? Why should this even be a problem, given the fact that my new hair is your basic Dutch girl cut, updated for a modicum of 21st century, middle-aged cool, of course?

So, for those of you dreaming of storytelling success--I know there are at least three of you who might actually read this entry--remember there is a Dark Side to this success. Now, please send your entreaties the Hair Gods for a decent hair day by Friday!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

I think the muse is back!

We've all been there...nothing new and exciting seems to inspire us, we look for new stories and they seem like the same ones we've been telling. Life gets busy and we just slide along. No more!

I spoke of my efforts to nail down information on a ghost steamboat in Minneapolis. I'm no closer than I was before on that one, but the process of searching for that information opened up some new avenues to pursue. At the time, I thought, "hmm, coolio," but that's as far as it went. Until yesterday.

What was special about yesterday? Nothing really. In fact, it was a really long day. It was the first day of my summer vacation, and I drove four hours to the University of Iowa to attend a staffing for two of my students who just finished speech camp there. It was well worth the four hours down, and the return trip back home for the information I gained to help those kids. It also helped me relocate my muse.

What? Well, to understand this happy occurence, a bit of geography is helpful. To get from where I live to Iowa City, about half of the trip follows along the Mississippi River. To understand the rest of this occurence, put yourself in my place. Long drive. All alone. Mind wanders. Although the parents of these two little boys were somewhat incredulous that I'd make that trip for a 90 minute meeting, the other benefit it yielded was all that alone time, with nothing more to do than drive. You can ponder many things when you're in a car for 8 hours by yourself, driving the sleepy Iowa highways.

In my ghost searching, I learned of Mary B. Greene, one of the first woman riverboat pilots and founder with her husband of the Greene line. The Greene line may not mean anything to you, but I'll bet you've heard of the Delta Queen, one of the vessels of the Greene line. Mary lived most of her life on the river, still taking a turn at the helm of the Queen well into her final years. Stories say she was kicking up her heels two nights before her peaceful passing on the Queen.

Stories also say that she hasn't really left the Queen, even though she died in 1949. One story claims she is responsible for bringing two crew mates together, eventually becoming married. That story has been retold dramatically on "Unsolved Mysteries" already, but there are plenty more.

So I'm recharged. Some of her descendents and fellow crewmates are still very much in this world. Grandchildren post regularly on various steamboat message boards. I'm hoping to roll up my researcher/oral historian sleeves and develop stories told in the first person, Chatauqua style, of Captain Mary Becker Greene. I'm a bit tall---she was five feet, I'm 5'8"---but after all, my job as a storyteller isn't really to be Mary, but to paint pictures of Mary for the listeners' imaginations with my words. I'm excited at this possibility and hope that any sandbars along the way are easy to pull over. It's so good to have my muse back!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Looking for a ghost steamer on a Sunday afternoon...

Actually, I've been looking for this boat for a few years now. It's a small piece of oral folklore, one which appears to be in danger of being lost forever, if my efforts at gathering details is any indication. A 19th century steamboat on the upper Mississippi River, the Camden Bridge near the home of my youth in Minneapolis, ghostly sightings under the bridge. The truth is out there; like Mulder, I intend to find it.

It started a couple years back, when I was invited to be one of the featured performers for the Iowa Storytelling Festival in Clear Lake, Iowa. Part of the festival was a "Ghost Boat" telling on Friday night. Sitting in the dark on a hot July night, we took turns telling ghost stories. I'd heard this bit of a story about another steamboat, and sought to track down the details, hoping to flesh it into a story for telling that night.

Not so easy. I'd first heard of this steamboat in the unlikeliest of quarters---all night talk radio in Minneapolis when I was an insomniac high schooler circa 1971 0r 72. Friday night during a full moon was the best night. The most, shall we say, "interesting" callers made their calls on those nights. The ones who were this close to finding the formula for making gold, if they could just get the exact width of light on earth. It always left my dad and me laughing or scratching our heads. There was one regular who was worth staying up late to hear. He went by the name of the "Old Prospector," and he liked to dig for old bottles. While digging for old medicine show artifacts, he seemed to accumulate the most interesting local stories as well. One has captured my imagination, even if not a stronghold on my memory centers.

There was a steamboat, probably during the 19th century, that made some kind of regular run. Dad seems to remember St. Cloud as being part of the story. Something terrible happened one night, as often did with boats run by steam boilers. There was a fire or explosion. We remember something about a little boy dying, and his mother looking for him. Maybe she waited in Camden to see him. We aren't sure. What both Dad and I remember was that a key part of the Old Prospector's story involved sitting under the Camden Bridge at midnight on some significant night. If one did so, they might see the ghost steamer as it passed under the bridge. Maybe it had to do this until the woman was reunited with her son, that part is also sketchy.

Fast forward to my festival engagement. I contacted a society for the paranormal. No response. I contacted the editor of the Camden Neighborhood weekly newspaper. She had not heard the story, but placed a bit in her paper seeking memories from area old-timers. No one came forward. Too bad. I'd offered to do a program for a community group if I could get the material I needed for my story.

I did plenty of internet searching. I've learned many interesting things about the steamboats that plied the river, but not a bit about my foggy memory. I'm looking again. I'm going to be telling on another boat this summer, a real live steamboat, the Julia Belle Swain. I'd love to get the little bits to add authenticity to my ghosting. Yes, I could make stuff up. Still, it's far more satisfying to share the real story. There's just something so eerily satisfying about the words, "the way I heard it happened was...." Beyond that, it could be my small part to help save a legacy of oral folklore from north Minneapolis that would become yet another lost memory for the ages, along with the brickyards and lumber mills that once thrived in that locale.

If perhaps you, dear reader, were also a Twin Cities insomniac and heard this story, please share your remembrances with me. Once you do, clear your calendar for the August 27 brunch cruise on the Julia Belle to hear the "truth." I know it's out there.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Could they be any cuter than this?

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The story behind the photo....

One of my vices, in addition to storytelling, is scrapbooking, as in "fancy photo albums with extraneous decorations added to the page for artistic effect and a guaranteed drain on one's recreational spending." Scrapbooking is actually a rather nice foil for a storyteller, especially in its modern incarnation, as the umpteen magazines and websites devoted to the hobby exhort us to "tell the story behind the photo." As a storyteller, I'm more than happy to oblige.

I was driving home from work yesterday. I usually take a county road that parallels the interstate running at the south edge of my town. For the past few weeks, this county road has been undergoing "improvements," a term with which I beg to differ. My reasoning will become obvious shortly...allow me to set the stage for my story!

As I drove along, I noticed in the ditch two very young raccoons rummaging about in the rocks and weeds. It just so happened I had my heavy duty camera set-up along, having been on a field trip with 1st graders out in "nature" for the afternoon. There are always great photo ops on those field trips, as some of them encounter bugs, tree frogs and shelf mushrooms for the first time in their short lives. I tried to pull off the road so I could take advantage of my good fortune.

Couldn't do it. The so-called "improvement" had made a shoulder almost non-existent. I drove on ahead, turned in a parking lot, and headed back. The coons were still there, but I couldn't pull off on that side, either. There really aren't many places to pull off on this road. It's mainly rural. Aha! Rural! That means I can pull into the parking lot of the John Deere dealership about a half mile down the road, park and walk back!

That's just what I did, walking along the road with no real shoulder, still undergoing "improvements," late in the afternoon. Lugging a camera with a 4.5 pound lens attached to it.

My mind wandered to days past when I regularly ran this circuit as part of my 5 mile runs. Back in the day, I could run this stretch and see hardly a car. Not so today. I was afraid by the time I reached the ditch where the raccoons were foraging, they'd have moved back into the scrubby pine stand along the rocky outcrop.

The stars were with me. They were still there, and largely unconcerned with my presence. I kept looking up for a Mama Raccoon, but didn't see her. I was entertained for about a half hour, watching the clumsy little critters rummage about. I kept waiting for them to come into clear view, but about the time they were there, another construction truck would roll by, sending them scampering into the brush.

I'm sure I entertained more than a few passersby, sitting down there in the hot ditch. I'm too old to care if I did. I enjoyed my close encounter with nature's bandits, and was able to capture about a dozen nice photos, including this one of the two, all tuckered out from their adventure, curling up for a late afternoon siesta. After walking the hot dusty road back to my car, I was ready to curl up for my own siesta as well.

And that's the story behind this photo. At least, that's how I tell it to you!