In memory of Leonard Cohen, 9/21/1934 – 11/10/2016

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Look at this photo. It was taken on Sunday during a rally in Minnesota.

rope-tree-journalistSource: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

For me this image hit too close to home, both literally and figuratively: This man could be my neighbor; the people he would lynch could be my friends and former colleagues.

This photo represented the lowest point for me in a what has been a hostile, embarrassing, and infantile presidential campaign.

I’ve been disappointed in the mud-slinging. We’re facing some serious problems, and I’m pretty sure we won’t solve any of them with nasty tweets.

I’ve been disappointed in our politicians’ and political parties’ lack of moral courage, too. If the stakes weren’t so high, their posturing and jockeying would be comical.

But mostly I’ve been disappointed in my fellow Americans. Americans like the guy in this shirt.

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Image via Twitter

I’ve been disappointed in Americans who demand their rights but who accept none of the responsibility. Americans who assert their liberties while aggressively denying the same to others. Americans who scream “FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” while calling for the murder of the very people who work every day to defend it.

These aren’t my people. And this is not the version of America I believe in.

In my America, all people are created equal with certain inalienable rights. Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness.

So tonight — on election eve — I’m borrowing the words of another fellow who did know something about moral conviction and human rights:

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I’m borrowing the words of Jenny Lawson, an author whose courage and authenticity I admire:

We’re going to be okay.

We will. Because no matter who wins and no matter who you voted for you will still have the opportunity to fight each day for what you want to see in the world. Fight for justice or kindness or acceptance or love or equality or whatever it is that is still lacking. You will not fight alone. You still make a difference. In some cases you make more of a difference than a President ever will. Either way, you’ll be needed tomorrow (and every day after) to promote joy and love and grace even if you’re tired. You will be better for it and so will the world.

And I’m borrowing the words of my friend Jim on Facebook, who always seems to get it right:

Facebook friends — family, school chums, semi-pro football peers, fellow ink-stained and gigabyte wretches, teachers and mentors, fellow travelers on this blue ball — I just want to say I love you. We have so much more that binds us than divides us. I am honored to have you in my life.

We may never perfect democracy in the U.S. (With some 320 million people, we may never even agree on what democracy means.)

But we can each influence it by being the change we wish to see in the world. Working for justice or kindness or equality. Remembering that we’re all fellow travelers on this magnificent blue planet. And by discovering that — although we do have divisions — we also have a lot in common.

If we can remember that united we stand, we’re going to be okay.

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October has been a full month. Friends have been ailing. My loved ones have had health scares. I’ve been busy at work. I’ve been busy at home, too, as Esteban and I have begun preparing our home for sale. But through it all I’ve tried to pause for a few minutes of stillness and reflection every day. And although none of the resulting photos is a masterpiece, at least I have a record of the moments I may have otherwise missed.

October 1
The kids next door held an epic party. The next morning my neighbor across the alley found a pair of shoes in her pond. All I got was an all-night hip-hop soundtrack, and the time to finally dig into my vacation photos from last May.

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October 9

A flock of wild turkeys ran toward me in the woods. I thought I was about to earn The Most Interesting Obituary of the Year, but it turns out they were just habituated and looking for handouts. We all parted peacefully, if a little disappointed.

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October 15

One of my walks around Como Lake coincided with a fundraiser for brain-tumor research. “There are nearly 700,000 individuals in the U.S. living with a brain tumor,” read one of the signs. I felt grateful to be one of the lucky ones who is truly living and not merely surviving.

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October 16

After a summer of gorging on our compost, our resident squirrel finally got too corpulent to run away from us. Soon it will be sound asleep, and I’ll miss the thumpa-thumps of its furry Riverdance on our roof in the morning.

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October 17

I decided to sell a bunch of stuff on eBay. I took the pictures, but never listed anything. Oh, well. Maybe next year.

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October 22

Even from a block away I could spot our ash tree’s golden leaves shimmering against the deep-blue fall sky. An hour later I was cursing these same leaves for sticking to the wet paint I’d just put on the garage.

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October 23
During a morning walk in my neighborhood I spotted this sign on a business that has survived a market crash, a fire, and Minneapolis’ new zoning laws. I immediately adopted it as my new personal motto.

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Also, I paused to admire my city’s beautiful urban canopy — and another rotund squirrel.

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October 23

After 30-some years of driving past the Gibbs Farm Museum, I finally went inside. It merits its own post, but here are a couple of teasers.

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October 29

Esteban and I voted. Those may have been our most important 10 minutes of 2016.

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October 30

From historic walks to run-ins with rattlesnakes, the tiny town of Frontenac has hosted many wild adventures with my friend Pam. Sunday’s visit was more subdued, in keeping with the season’s muted hues — but still beautiful.

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October 31

I got the results from my annual physical, and it appears my growing girth has brought a rise in blood pressure and cholesterol, too. That means no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for me this year. Sigh. Happy Halloween anyway.

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Years ago, when we still had our dog Arrow, Esteban and I used to hike in a state park almost every weekend. But after Arrow died and our lives grew more complicated we slowly abandoned the habit.

I’d almost forgotten we even had state parks in Minnesota until my friend Silke — who was visiting from Paris a couple of weeks ago — specifically requested a prairie walk. I was glad to oblige, and we were blessed with a gorgeous day.

This post goes out to Silke with my thanks for not only reintroducing me to William O’Brien State Park, but also for being the perfect prairie roam companion.

À très bientôt, j’espère !


In spite of my loathe/hate relationship with the Minnesota State Fair, last Saturday Esteban and I fulfilled our legal obligation as residents of our fair state and attended the annual event.

There are three things you need to know about this 320-acre cornucopia of farm animals, crop art, and questionable foods:
1. it’s smelly,
2. it’s loud, and
3. it’s crowded.

In other words, it’s basically an introvert’s nightmare. So how do I cope? Here’s my plan of attack, in three easy steps.

Step 1 • Plan ahead

Before I go, I study the new food selections for that year. (Pork. BE INSPIRED.)

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This year featured not one but TWO Spam® dishes — including Spam “sushi.” We also had some multicultural options, like the extremely authentic and very traditional Italian Taco.

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But the ad that most caught my eye was the last one: “New Vendors. New Vendors. Two brand-new vendors located at locations throughout the fairgrounds.” Could you please be less specific, and more redundant? Thank you.

Anyway. After perusing these dubious delicacies, I note their locations on my map — so I can actively avoid them.

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Step 2 • Go early, and leave early

There’s no way around it: The Minnesota State Fair is going to be crowded. (In 2016 it broke its attendance record with 1,943,719 visitors over 10 days.)

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But over the years I’ve noticed that some elements of the crowd are more obnoxious — like, say, screaming children and drunks — so I’ve developed strategies to minimize my exposure.

Careful observation reveals that most of the families with small children arrive at the Fair after about 10 a.m. (My working theory is that this is because it’s physically impossible to dress a small child before he or she wants to be dressed.)

These small children are adorable when they first arrive, of course, because there’s so much interesting stuff to eat (see Exhibit A — New Foods for 2016) and so much to see. Why, just look at these two tots dueling with their popsicles!

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The novelty wears off quickly, though, and by 2 p.m. these once-happy children are emitting howls of displeasure so loud they could deafen a coyote. Not coincidentally, this is also when many of the adults show the first signs of inebriation.

You can avoid all of this by arriving at the Fair at 7 a.m. and then cheerfully leaving at noon, before the smiles turn to snarls. Sure, you may miss out on a couple of entertaining arrests — but you can always catch the highlight reel on the evening news.

Step 3 • Take shelter

If in spite of following Steps 1 and 2 you’re still overwhelmed, head for the relative safety of a barn. (Important comfort tip: Not recommended with open-toed shoes, unless you’re up for a poo-dicure.)

Inside the barns you’ll find a haven for introverts, many of whom will also be hiding behind cameras.

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And if you’re lucky you’ll get to watch a farrier demonstration …

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… catch a few zzz’s with a cow …

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… or chat with the local cowboys and cowgirls.

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As a former horsewoman, this is my favorite part — even if that horse on the left, below, seems to disapprove of my photography.

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When Esteban and I were there they were also judging cattle in the arena. We got a huge kick out of the judge’s explanations of why he had chosen a particular heifer.

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But as fun as it was to reconnect with Minnesota’s agrarian roots, I was relieved when it came time to leave and the crowd thinned as we walked toward the exit.

It’s been grand, Minnesota State Fair.

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Fail harder

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I read an article a while back about Johannes Haushofer, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University who wrote a rather unconventional résumé: rather than tout his accomplishments, instead he listed his failures.

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“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible,” Haushofer wrote.

That rings especially true in our age of social media, with its constant stream of images and posts. It’s easy to forget that those posts are highly curated, and that for every beautiful image we see there are likely a hundred crappy ones.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing if we occasionally set aside our polished highlight reels, and shared something a little bit more real?

In that spirit, today I’m abandoning my hand-picked travel photos to show you a shoot that went horribly wrong.

It wasn’t a professional gig, thank God — I simply wanted to make some nice portraits of my friends’ cat Rocky while I was cat-sitting.

I began with the obligatory Google search for “pet photography.” You know, for inspiration.

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Seems simple enough, right? In actual practice, it was much more complicated: ROCKY WOULD NOT SIT STILL.

First, he was twitchy as he stalked the squirrels.

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Then he flopped around on the floor.

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Finally, he got back on the table and threatened me with death.

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And when none of those performances elicited the petting he so richly deserved, Rocky began head-butting my camera.

Bonk.

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Bonk!

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BONK!!

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Covered in fur and cat spit, I finally convinced the animal to cooperate. Alas, even my best efforts fell short of the Googly goodness.

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But you know what? That’s OK. None of us can excel at everything, right?

And anyway, at least one image did spark my imagination to take Rocky’s portrait in a whole new direction.

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The moral of today’s story:

If at first you don’t succeed, FAIL HARDER.


I was going to whine about how busy the past month has been (because it has felt like the writer’s equivalent of a puppy mill). But then I stumbled across this photo I shot in May and was reminded that even when we’re quite literally running from one thing to the next, there’s still beauty and stillness all around us.

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My apologies to all the blog-friends I’ve neglected. I look forward to catching up on your lives and your posts soon!

 


One of our favorite pastimes in Minnesota is talking about the weather. This isn’t because we’re superficial or boring; rather, it’s because our weather is so darned interesting. Last Tuesday is a perfect example.

The day started gloriously, with bright sunshine and blue skies. I wanted to be outside — but since I was already lobster-pink from my adventure on Saturday, I decided instead to spend my rare weekday off at the Como Conservatory.

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I got distracted on the way to the beautiful Victorian greenhouse, though, by the “pollinator garden.”

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Just as advertised, it was alive with the buzzing of busy bees.

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But something else soon drew my eye. A hummingbird?!

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Nope. A hummingbird moth. I don’t know what purpose this mimicry serves, but the illusion is perfect.

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I also found some other bugs we might not usually hail as pollinators. Like this iridescent beetle …

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… and this cheeky little fellow I dubbed “Mister Mephistopheles.”

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Although Mister Meph looked sleek from a distance, upon closer inspection I saw he was covered with tiny hairs to better collect the pollen.

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By now it was hotter than Hades and I was redder than Mephistopheles himself, so I headed home. That’s when I got the updated weather forecast:

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If you don’t talk Minnesotan, this means “We’re all going to perish in an apocalypse of hail, wind, and maybe a few tornadoes.” And soon enough, I believed it as the sky turned an ominous shade of bluish-green.

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Then the wind started, and the rain. (You can watch the video on Facebook  for an “immersive” experience with a shocking ending. Ha ha.)

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It wasn’t until the next morning, though, that I saw the extent of the damage. The sidewalks were littered with leaves and bits of bark, and trees blocked several streets.

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In one spot, sparks from downed power lines had even caused a small fire.

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My mind turned to the little creatures I’d photographed only 16 hours earlier. Had any of them survived? As if on cue, a neighbor’s garden caught my attention. I was relieved (and surprised) to note that even the most delicate flowers were unscathed.

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Then I spotted an eastern cottontail rabbit: She was a bit bedraggled, but none the worse for wear.

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And while this little fellow looked perplexed by his new split-level squirrel condo, he too seemed otherwise unfazed.

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By the end of my walk, the only creature I was worried about was my clueless neighbor.

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Although I admired his skill in lifting the fire tape above his car as he circumnavigated the fallen tree, I also couldn’t help cringing.

“Did you notice you just drove over a bunch of power lines?” I asked him. “Oh really?” he replied. “Oops. But that sure was one helluva storm …”

In the end, no tornadoes materialized in the Twin Cities — but there was widespread wind damage, and five days later the clean-up continues in some neighborhoods.

Like I said: It’s never boring here!


It’s been a terrible week, full of senseless and tragic killings. A few of them happened in the United States — one of them in my home state. I can picture the spot where Philando Castile was shot; I’ve driven past it many times.

But what can I add that hasn’t already been said? I have no words to describe how heartbroken I feel for Phil, his friends, and his family — or for the police officer who shot him. And anyway, my heartbreak is useless.

I’m trying not to surrender to hopelessness, though. I’m trying to remember that the good people (whether in uniform or not) far outnumber the bad. I’m trying to believe that the week’s tragic events will somehow spur positive change. And I’m daring to hope that my fellow Americans will weigh their reaction — and that they’ll choose love, wisdom, and compassion.

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In Minnesota we have two seasons: Winter, and road construction.

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Welcome to Minnesota. Enjoy our orange cones!

But sandwiched between them every year is one single, glorious day we call “summer.” Summer really does feel that fleeting here, perhaps because the winters are so memorable.

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Proof that Mother Nature is trying to kill you.
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This is my neighbor Norine, casually stopping by to say hello.

But on that rare day when the prairie grasses sway in the breeze like an inland ocean and the sky turns a deep cerulean blue, I forgive nature for the months I’ve spent as a purple popsicle.

Today was one of those rare and glorious days.

I’d made plans to spend the morning with my friend Carol, who lives near the town of Stillwater. She knows all the meandering back roads and scenic spots — including this public dock on the St. Croix river.

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Carol also has a great eye for architecture, though, and today she gave me a tour of the Jackson Meadow community in nearby Marine on St. Croix.

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Part of the idea behind the development is harmony with nature, so the yards and public grounds are planted with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. I loved how you could hear birds everywhere, and the buzzing of bees.

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The light was so intense that the colors almost looked fake.

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But Carol was there; she can vouch for me.

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And I can vouch for the fact that there’s no better way to spend the rare Minnesota summer day than with a dear friend. Thank you, Carol.




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