Archive for March, 2014

New Americans at the Park




Last week, I slid onto the bench behind the table at the evening Township Annual Meeting next to one of the Town Supervisors.

Looking out over the thirty-plus rural folks attending, I said, “Wow,” I said, “This is a good crowd.”

He nodded and lamented, “I wish we could get a third of this attendance at the monthly meetings. Folks should know they get to practice local government more than once a year.”

The meeting was called to order, we rose and with hands over hearts said the Pledge of Allegiance and a moderator was nominated, seconded and approved. The previous year’s annual meeting minutes read followed by the treasurer’s report.

We listened to appeals from representatives of various non-profits requesting continued support at equal or even with a slight increase. Most were approved. Most creative was the appeal made by the local 4-H group. By this time, over an hour had passed, and the young girl who was going to assist her 4-H leader and mother, in making the presentation was snoring as she slept sprawled across her father’s lap. The leader asked for a donation and promised that with the gift, the local group of young people would return to the town hall in the spring and give it a good cleaning. We voters could not resist the offer?

The discussion shifted to the role of the township in helping non-profits out with money. One middle-aged man wondered, “If the county is already contributing aren’t we paying twice? Is it the role of the township to subsidize these groups?”

A healthy, short discussion was had and it is clear that this issue will likely be brought up early in next year’s meeting Two primary agenda items were next: Fire District and Acquisition of County Parkland.

The Fire District issue is a hot (sorry) potato as it is an expensive line item in the township budget. A motion was made and passed to form a committee to look closely at the options and then report back to the township with recommendations.

But it was the discussion of increasing Anderson County Park acreage with the purchase of two willing sellers that touched the nerve of most of the back row of the meeting.

“Now we want to take more land off the tax roles?” barked one man.

This was followed by an almost orchestrated row of sneers and head nods.

That was the cue my Lovely Lady, my wife, Nancy, was waiting for.

She raised her hand and proceeded to deliver points about the ecological services wild lands provide to all of us at no cost to us. Calmly she added, “These ecological services, like clean water and air, provide far more to us than the burden of additional residential growth. Research has repeatedly shown that residential growth does not pay for itself unless the homes are million dollar plus homes.”

Our township sits in a big bed of sand, courtesy of the outwash plains from the last glacial melting some 12,000 years ago. This region is a valuable water filter and water storage area with the many wetlands and lakes found here. Much of this water filters down and recharges the Mt. Simon Aquifer; the same aquifer that provides fresh water to the northern Twin Cities Region.

Another man, a friend who lets us pick cranberries on his lakeshore property, asked a question that drew looks of momentary puzzlement.

“I’m concerned about the New Americans that will come out here. Why I can’t even get out on the fishing pier up by Mora without being forced off by their numbers.”

There was a moment of silence and I detected several accommodating nods from the back row.

In an instant it was clear that the shadow of fear had pushed its way into the back row as well.

A retired woman sitting directly in front of the scorned fisherman turned and asked, “What do you mean. . . New Americans?”

“Well,” he replied with a smile, “They sure aren’t Swedes and Norwegians.” This got a back row laugh.

I remembered stories of how early immigrants to America coming from Scandinavia, Ireland and elsewhere were scorned.

Another woman, a former librarian declared, “Well I’m not afraid of new folks coming out to enjoy the park. After all, it is there for the public good.”

I was glad that the moderator sensed the energy shift in the room. So in order to minimize conflict he called for a vote on the motion.

“All in favor for the township to contribute $15,000 to be used as matching funds for a grant request for Anderson park land say “aye”.”




It was too close to call so the moderator called for a show of hands.

“Nineteen to seventeen. The ayes win. The motion is passed.”

Although I was relieved, I wasn’t jubilant. Frankly I wanted to get out of there. It felt uncomfortable.

Now a week later, I am more committed than ever in saving wild lands.

Whether we like it or not the face of America is changing. The face of Minnesota is changing. Within ten years it is projected that the white population of America will go from being a majority to a minority. Nothing we can do about it nor is there anything we should do about it.

Change is inevitable and change can be scary. For some folks it is real scary. Some day soon, the vanilla face of this Township Meeting will change. Stay tuned.

If we do not encourage today’s minorities and immigrants  from engaging intimately in national, state, and even county parks, there is a greater likelihood that those areas will not be safeguarded. We have to create moments when people can fall in love with these remnants of wild lands. When you love something you will go to great lengths to care and protect it.

The irony is that we will only be protecting those systems that make it possible for us to live.

 “America has changed me, and I and hundreds of thousands like me dramatically changing America.”

-Novelist Sharati Mukherjee

Essensual Landscapes

sensual shadowIMG_0214I love wild places.

It’s altogether too easy to say one loves anything.  I fear such idle pronouncements diminish the real authenticity and power of love. Perhaps  the descriptor “love” has become as trite as describing something as “awesome” or “epic.” Words, like footwear, can be faddish. So let me try again.

I love wild places. No, I mean really love wild places. And while I stand in awe of rugged landscapes, it is the soft, sensual landscapes that most arrest my gaze. I wonder what role the Greek god, Eros, plays in my steadfast need for wild places?  As humans we are undeniably sexual beings. Capitalists have long known the secret that sex sells. If you don’t wash your hair with “Shampoo X” then you are made to feel unattractive and even unsexy. But use “Shampoo X” and you will be awash in mate-attracting pheromones.

I often wonder how is it that the raw and naked wildness of the natural world can arouse my senses and brings me pleasure as no mortal lover can? In my heated love for the land around my home, I  confess to numerous love affairs. Some are one-time trysts and others are relationships that I have carefully nurtured for years.  Short, but heated exotic and foreign relationships serve to add fire to the passion and commitment to protect and nurture the familiar homescape.

We live in a culture that is often in dilemma about the conflict of sex and beauty. If a mutually agreeable sex act is excellent and enhances the love between two individuals it is said to be beautiful. However, the message we often receive is that sex is something that we must only whisper about, rather than celebrate. How can we find peace in our knowing if we are taught conflicting messages that one  is “dirty” and  the other is a sacred and lovely act.

I believe there is an innate tension between an honest-to-goodness feeling of arousal in wild places  and our need to suppress that nature. If we succumb to the erotic, I believe can forge an intimate relationship with it.

We are motivated to change or act when something affects us personally. It might be a health issue or the change is inspired by the girth, or lack of it, of your wallet. I would argue there is a third powerful motivator to change. That catalyst would be “heart surge”  or an actual physical uplift when in the company of a favorite person or place. There is an undeniable jolt of pleasurable arousal.

When we awaken that arousal in ourselves we are fed the sticky syrups that anchor us in relationship. Think of how many times you might have been rendered mute when confronting a magical, still moment in the outdoors.  Perhaps it was a moment when the sun dipped into west horizon and offered us one last glowing moment of the day. Or maybe it’s the first light of day that caresses your skin in a subtle warm wash. Vistas, particularly from hills and mountains, have always inspired heart surges.  These moments are best described in the words of novelist, A. B. Guthrie, “that we really ain’t such a somebody.”

It’s a good thing to be humbled by the power and affections of the natural world. Visual amazements, heady blossom perfumes, essences of cedar and spruce, the tartness of a wood sorrel leaf on the tongue or the coolness of a soft day when earthbound clouds surround us with their mist can forge unforgettable foreplay.

I want to touch, to get “dirty” with the land. There is something so honest, innocent and playful about a child or worker who is smeared and smudged with banners of dirt. I would rather engage with the banker who wears a thin crescent of dirt under their fingernails than the one wearing flawless and smoothed fingertips.

Think about it, the best sex is when one surrenders to the moment losing all control. We are a species that has a difficult time in surrendering control and letting go.  Perhaps I find a surge in sexual energy when in wild places because in such places there is no control. It is sheer wildness.   Eros is a mentor in helping me connect intimately to wild places.  The more dissociated I am with natural communities, the more I feel the wellsprings of my passions seeping away.

Just as we are genetically coded to have wild places in our lives, I believe there is an erotic calling for wildness in each and every one of us. Wide-eyed amazement at a moment of a new and astonishing discovery is unforgettable.  My creed for loving wild places is to surrender to wonder.

Certainly there are ethical and moral rules around sex, but imagine if we looked at the natural world with the same intensity as we do a remembered love?

Surrender to Wonder 2