Tag Archives: minnesota

sense of place

It’s February. The land where I was born is still wrapped in a deep freeze. Delicate icicles dangle from roof tops, breath creates a halo of white smoke around the living. Here in Arizona I already feel rumbles of spring, buds are budding and crocuses blooming and we didn’t even really get a winter; it was the hottest January on record.

Winter memories from childhood grab me. There was silence among the snow and the trees, save for a delightful crunching beneath my feet, my quick breathing. There was the bite of cold air on my face, my only exposed skin. The cold would burn in my nostrils and make my toes go numb yet still, it was thrilling. As the sun would sink towards the horizon, my friends and I would pull our plastic sleds to the nearest hill and slide down and down and down. All would rush by in a white blur and if I was tossed off I would lie on my back for a moment to find my breath while gazing at the twinkling stars above.

There was the slide of car on ice, the pumping of brakes, the whispered prayers.

There was the slide of blades on ice, the spinning, the fall to earth.

There was the smell of snow.

Motherhood unlocked a part of me that misses my birthplace, its seasons and rhythms. I think about going back sometimes, but I have a life here, one that is happy and full. I chose this place. Our family was created and recreated here. The roots we have cultivated run deep.

My daughter will grow up to have a totally different sense of place. Her eyes learned to focus gazing on the saffron, cloudless sky, delicate mesquite leaves, stately saguaro arms. She heard a snake’s rattle before she could sit up. She learned to walk on rocky mountain trails. She likely will always feel at home here, under the intense yellow sun.

Perhaps she too will have memories that sing to her in the quiet nights of her future, as her winding path pulls her near to me and away from me and back home again.

the rhythm of where I came from, the rhythm of where I am

It is amazing how my ideas of the seasons, the natural cycles accompanied by Earth’s journey around the sun are so shaped by growing up in the Midwestern US.  Even after dwelling in the desert for 8 years, I frown at the shoots of wildflowers reaching green tendrils up to the sky in January and exclaim No! Its too soon! Of course, what is wild and natural can be neither early nor late, but there is a part of me that still exists in Minnesota, that still appraises within the constructs of that world: long winters with temperatures that plunge well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit  Short, glimmery summers that pass with a breath of humidity, the buzz of mosquitoes  and then suddenly are gone. The sacred two week race between the 15th of May and memorial day to plant seeds if there is to be any hope of tomatoes in August.

The day I saw the beginning of wildflowers there was a high of -5°F in Minneapolis, and I think it was that part of me, still shivering in the North, that couldn’t accept my new home, the new rhythms of life. Barry Lopez writes on how disconcerting life in the Arctic is for those of us dominated by the simple truths of temperate living: the sun rising in the East, setting in the West, day after day. It is true in Tucson, albeit to a lesser degree. I get frustrated with Midwestern transplants that complain about the lack of seasons in the desert.  There are seasons, magical ones, but they aren’t our seasons. I understand this is really what they miss: the comforting truths of fall leaves crunching underfoot in early October.  The heavy snows of March. The breeze off the lake cutting through the humidity of July. And we can adjust to new places, humans are adaptable afterall. I tend to lettuce and chard during these months while Minnesota is under a blanket of cold and snow and ice, I open the door and let warm January breezes pass through the house. But there is still the part of us gazing at the world through the eyes of our childhood, from the perspective of where we came.

her headstone

Mom’s permanent headstone is now in place.  I never knew it was possible to love a headstone.  But I do!

I was surprised when she asked to be interned in the small town in Southern Minnesota where her father was born.  I guess I thought she’d go for something romantic.  Ashes scattered across the Bay of Banderas or something like that.  Once again, I was confusing her wishes with my own.

She chose well. In that small town cemetery, they punched out space deep in the dark, rich earth to hold her ashes.  The same earth that her family has farmed for generations. She is buried there, right next to her father.

And now the permanent marker is in place.  I’m not which relative selected this headstone, but it is perfect.  The hearts, the flowers, the photo…  as sweet as the life it represents.

“Permanent marker” may be a misnomer.  It is no more permanent than anything else.  But stone gives the feeling of permanence, doesn’t it?  I can imagine the sensation of my fingers tracing her name, the cool hardness of the headstone.  Her body gone, but her name carved in granite. The image of her beautiful smile preserved. Never to be diminished with the passage of time, or so it seems.

I like having a monument to her life, even if it’s over a thousand miles a way, and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see it in person. Even if it’s a bit of an illusion of permanence. And of course she is bigger than a headstone, she still touches everything in my life.  But I also love the carved stone, the smiling face, the marker that says “this wonderful woman lived, and then she died.”

the return

Dear Mom,

You’ve been gone six months and we did it, the final step in the formal mourning process. We brought your ashes back to Minnesota.  Everytime I return there, something inside of me cracks open. The plane touches down and I feel a ball of emotion I can only experience in Minnesota.  Peace, gratitude, longing. Years can fly by, but its still my home, your home.  The lush trees wave “hi” with huge, loaded branches that shimmy in the wind. The lakes sparkle in the sunshine. Its so very, very beautiful.

We had a service at First Universalist.  Our old church in South Minneapolis.  The stained glass windows from the years as a synagogue are gone, and the century-old building has been adapted to be more ADA friendly.  Still, there is no question, its the same place that you passed out fliers to congregants, and sipped black coffee with your friends, and cooked for fundraisers, and listened to my harp recitals in the basement.

People shared beautiful words about you.  They not only loved you, they really knew you.  Your life was full, yet you were so very present for everyone you encountered.  Perhaps the finest achievement in your life were the relationships you tended. They blossomed perpetually and the roots ran deep.

You wanted to return to LaSalle,  where your father was born and is buried.  The day after your memorial in Minneapolis, we drove through hours of cornfields to this lovely little town on the prairie. From the cemetery, you can see the grain elevators, a beautiful tree, and the big, big sky. Reflecting these sensible Scandinavians, this cemetery is also where people plan ahead.  It seems like every other headstone belongs to the living, with their death date remaining blank. For now.

Your family gathered in the cemetery. Many of them I don’t know, a casualty of your father’s early death. Still, we stood together under the prairie sky, united in the experience of loss. Your uncles had moved headstones so there would be enough room for you next to your dad. We put your ashes deep in the rich, black soil.  The wind was powerful; it whipped up skirts and blew the tears right off my face.  We retreated to the church basement in a small white chapel where your family has married and buried their dead for generations.    Your cousins served bread and sweets and coffee. I visited the home of your aunt and uncle, and rubbed my hands along the bedpost of a bedroom set that your father refinished before I was born, before lymphoma took him away far too young, like you.

Not all of your ashes went into the ground.  I took some away with me.  I thought about keeping them, but the pale, grainy powder seemed to have nothing to do with you.  The ash isn’t your smile, your light, the way you moved or laughed or sighed.  This is what we are reduced to, in the end, but a life is so much more than this. I can understand how religions around the world developed the concept of spirit.  We are more than the carbon leftovers of our physical body.

So, I put your ashes in Lake Harriet, on the 6 month anniversary of your death.  I know this isn’t what you asked for, but it felt right to me, to bring you back to the lake you pushed me around in my stroller as an infant, and where we walked side by side as adults. This is where it began for us.  I released you as kids fished nearby.  Your ashes clung together in the water for a while, like a cloud, then slowly disappeared as small waves lapped against the wooden dock.

I feel some relief after burying you in Minnesota.  But I also know that its not over for me. I won’t be eating sweets in church basements with strangers that loved you anymore, but the road without you stretches out before me, and its long.  If you were here, you probably would grab my hand and murmur “Oh, Lamb.” Because there isn’t much to say.  No cure for this, no expiration stamped on the bottom of my grief.  But if I can walk this road ahead with half of the loving grace that you did, well, I’d be living this life well.


at the lake with Mom

doing “okay”

I’m back at work.  It feels good, returning to my routines and a semblance of a normal life, whatever that is.  People ask me all the time if I’m okay, and I don’t really know how to answer that question, other than to thank them for their concern.  I haven’t figured out what it means to be okay.  I’m getting out of bed.  I’m working a full 8+ hours. I’m eating lots of Christmas cookies, and probably regaining the weight that I lost over the last month.  I’m now sleeping, with the aid of pharmacotherapeutics.  I don’t cry more than two or three times a day. So, yeah, maybe I am doing well. 

I also feel suspended in denial– it hasn’t fully sunk in yet that my mother is dead.  I still think about calling her everyday. I check my phone inadvertently for messages from her; my heart jumped in my chest this evening when I saw a call missed from “Mom, Home” (it was my stepfather phoning me, of course). Maybe if it really sunk in that I’ll never ever recieve a call from her again, I wouldn’t be showing up to work and being productive and “doing okay.”  

*  *  *

Mom’s services will be held on January 6th in Surprise– check out her CaringBridge for more details.  I’m eager to get back to Minnesota, and we will also be doing a service there sometime in the spring.  I feel numb and bewildered, but I do know it will feel good to get back to the place where it all began; the place that was home to me, and to Mom, at the very beginning of life.


I have loved Arizona since I was a little girl.  As far back as my memory takes me, I was enamored with the cacti, the drenching sunshine, even the intense summer heat.  At 22, I swore I would move there, and I finally arrived to stay on February 1st, 2005.

I’m an Arizonan now.  I’ve got a perma-tan that lasts throughout the winter months, a straw hat and chickens in the back yard.  I don’t round-out my “ohs”– or at least not as much as I used to.

Its not a huge surprise that I moved away.  I struggled with a depression that liked to set in every November and hang around through March.  In a land of famously-cold winters and 10,000 lakes (or really 12,000, right?), I managed to make it into early adulthood without riding either a jet ski or a snowmobile.  I don’t care for Minnesota cuisine of hotdish or bars. And my family never went fishing on the weekends, drilling through the ice to make it an all-seasons sport.  We didn’t even have a cabin “up north.”  And everyone has a cabin “up north.”

I hated the relentless Minnesota winters, but these days I long for the cold.  I’m not sure that makes any sense, although it might prove that if you are away from anything long enough, you will start to miss it.

To be in the woods during the winter is a special kind of marvelous that can’t be replicated in the desert.  Soft snow, all around, with tree branches slicing up the greyish sky.  And its silent.  So very silent.  You can hear your heartbeat while your breath puffs out in a whitish plume.




I’d like to be enveloped in wintery calm, swallowed up in white.  I want to rest in that timeless, silent place before and beyond any illness, fears, or frustration. It does seem easier to access from the deep Minnesota woods in February, but I believe I carry this peaceful spot within me.  Laced within my DNA, or holding the roots of my soul, its there, waiting for me to visit– even from my kitchen in Tucson.