Craig Nagel, columnist
On a recent road trip out to Washington State and British Columbia, I found myself astonished by the beauty and variety of our continent. Not that this insight is anything new. My wife grew up near Seattle, and through the years we've driven or flown out there several times. We've also enjoyed visiting the San Juan Islands, the beautiful town of Victoria, B.C., and the world-class city of Vancouver. But this trip nailed home the fact that North America itself is a very special place, and those of us who live in it should consider ourselves very fortunate.
While talking with an old friend last week, we came to the shared conclusion that those of us who came of age in the aftermath of World War II have a great deal to be thankful for. Yes, there were subterranean forces at work that no doubt distorted and damaged our psyches, and kept us from complete flowering. No era is exempt from imperfection. But taken in the main, we decided that the years directly following the war provided a better-than-average backdrop against which to live out one's childhood and to prepare for maturity.
For many centuries people the world over have been fascinated with the great rock ruins called Stonehenge. Built of mammoth slabs of sarsen, a stone much harder than flint, and smaller blocks of bluestone, Stonehenge consists of a series of concentric rings of pillars and holes surrounding several "station" stones that enable one to predict with amazing accuracy the important phases of the sun and moon. In essence, Stonehenge is an astronomical computer, albeit a rather heavy one. It no doubt also served as a sacred place of worship and celebration.
Some folks collect Vikings paraphernalia. Others gather old oil cans or vintage recipes or movie posters. I have a fondness for quotes and would like to share some with you, dear reader. I hope you'll find them interesting. "Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get." - Dale Carnegie "Faith which does not doubt is dead faith." - Miguel de Unamuno, philosopher and writer (1864-1936) "To profess to be doing God's will is a form of megalomania." - Joseph Prescott, aphorist (1913-2001)
We've lived in these parts, my wife and I, for some 52 years, north of Pine River for a decade, since then east of Pequot Lakes. When we started living here, neither of us knew much about surviving in the great north woods. OK, we knew a little bit. We knew it got cold in the winter - much colder than either of us was accustomed to. Claire'd grown up near Seattle, I near Chicago. Northern winters, for us, were the stuff of legend. Adventure! Excitement! Challenge! And, as it turned out - Pain!
A few weeks ago, my wife purchased a book by Jim Gilbert titled "Minnesota Nature Notes." According to the blurb on the back cover, Gilbert has been observing the changing Minnesota seasons for more than 30 years, and has done it "with the accuracy of a trained biologist and the rapt attention of a poet." Having established a network of friends in all corners of the state to help him keep track of nature's progress, Gilbert then made it his business to share these observations on his weekly WCCO Radio call-in program, and eventually collect them together into this book.
Like most Americans, I love cars. I've owned, enjoyed and occasionally cussed at my share of the critters. I learned how to drive in my parents' 1950 Studebaker, experienced the rock-solid safety of a '47 Hudson pickup truck and the wind-in-your-hair enchantment of a '53 MG-TD, and, after marrying, settled into a succession of station wagons and sedans. I've washed and polished nearly a dozen four-wheel-drive pickups, lumbered along in three or four dump trucks and, to honor my midlife crisis, actually bought a Miata.
Anyone who's lived in the woods for more than a year or two is familiar with the magic of midsummer. The magic is made of a mixture of all sorts of things. The temperature, for starters. In midsummer the warmth of midday nudges you toward water. A swim, a ride in the boat, maybe a couple of circuits around the lake on waterskis. Or maybe just a sprinkler set up for the kids to run through.
I recently rediscovered a delightful review of a book by Charlie Croker titled "Lost in Translation: Misadventures in English Abroad." In the book, Croker catalogs some of the interesting ways in which meaning gets muddled as it passes from one language to another.
Recently my wife and I drove south to Winona for a family get-together. As expected, we had a lot of fun catching up with cousins and others we hadn't seen for a long time. We all stayed at the same motel, had our own meeting room for meals and crafts and puzzles and general palaver, brought along coolers for soft drinks and wine and barley pop, and hardly watched a minute of TV.