29 June 2012

Minnesota is Epic (Expanded Version)

From the 16th to the 23rd of the month I visited a dear friend from my college at her home near Minneapolis, MN.  It was the first time I had spent much time in Minnesota; my experience of Minneapolis was limited to the airport and the train station.  I had no idea what a treat I was in for.

Here are some highlights of my trip (and, by way of implication, places you should visit if given the chance!).

  • Park Rapids, MN & Itasca State Park

We visited a relative of my friend's who lives in Park Rapids, MN, about three hours north of Minneapolis-Saint Paul.  The downtown has some of the usual boutique-type stores, but also a unique dollar store (a Ben Franklin) and grocery store which seem to indicate there's more to the community than the summer crowd.
This old Chevy truck (left), stunningly maintained, was parked in front of a cafĂ©.  As we enjoyed our drinks in the sunroom, we noticed the driver get in with two large poodles, one white and one black.

Within a shortish drive of Park Rapids is Itasca State Park, where the headwaters of the Mississippi River flow through notable stands of red and white pine; they were saved from lumber interests at the turn of the 20th Century by the courageous actions of the first Park Commissioners.  (One interim commissioner, Mary Gibbs, stood up to lumbermen with guns who had refused to open a dam that was causing the shoreline to flood.)  
The Mississippi River originates in Lake Itasca.

The rocks in the lower part of the picture (above) form a stepping-stone path across the creek that flows out of the lake, which is the start of the Mississippi.  It's not more than thirty feet wide.  Lake Itasca also has a swimming area; it was lovely on the day we went, with a gusting breeze rippling the water.  (Right, the marker at the lake.)

Itasca State Park has many other smaller bodies of water and the famous pine forests.  We drove around the 5 mile one-way loop that gives an excellent view of the park's beauty and opportunities to stop for the state's largest white pine, the (former) largest red pine (until it was damaged in a windstorm), and a very tall lookout tower.  Along the road we were delighted to spot a cluster of Showy Lady Slippers, the Minnesota state flower (below).
(Pardon me for a moment while I dance in honor of the bokeh I miraculously got.)

  •  Como Park, Zoo, & Conservatory in Saint Paul, MN

    While I was growing up I spent a considerable amount of time wandering around zoos and museums with family and friends.  I harbor much nostalgia for both, and have by no means outgrown a child's excitement about them.  Consequently, when my Minnesotan friend asked me if I had any requests of things to do during my visit, one of my items was visiting a zoo.  (The other was swimming in a lake, which we did at Itasca State Park.)

    I couldn't have asked for a nicer little zoo than the Como Zoo in St. Paul.  (Left, a view of the conservatory, which we didn't have time to visit.  I hope I can make it back, because things of that kind are another especial delight of mine.)  I was astonished at the friendliness of the animals.  They had no hesitation in coming up to their glass barriers or staring back at the people staring at them, sometimes with insolence.  One of these snow leopards, below, stared at me for almost ten minutes.  I don't know why.  Old jokes would suggest maybe I looked delicious but I kind of doubt that.  Maybe it was the gray velour sweatshirt I was wearing; probably looked a little like moleskin.

    (The streaks are from the glass I was photographing through)

    Some of the animals wanted to show off (Mr. Sea Lion, I'm looking at you) but others were more interested in having a quiet day (Mr. Land Lion, right).  Some merely seemed content to go about their daily business in the public eye, like the orangutan mother spoiling her baby with some affectionate roughhousing - right next to the glass.  One of my most exciting encounters was with that illustrious creature, the Tufted Puffin.  I never did quite figure out to what purpose this noble bird was going through his antics - I suppose it was his bath, though that seems paradoxical in the case of a waterbird - but I certainly enjoyed watching.

    The seahorses seemed merely bewildered (left).

    One of the other joys of visiting zoos is watching the humans who come to see them.  It was raining on and off during our visit.  During one heavy shower, we took cover under an overhang not far from an umbrella-sheltered table where a few families with small children had parked.  One family had all the children in shades of yellow, wonderful for regathering them when they scattered.  They were all running about getting soaked, jumping in puddles, dancing through the raindrops.  I watched the little girl's unaffected, somehow both graceful and clumsy movements, and wished I could still dance with that much unselfconsciousness.  A few minutes later we passed the same family on the way out and I noticed all their shoes had disappeared.
  • The Lego Store, Mall of America, Minneapolis, MN

    Let me be honest and tell you right now that I'm not a big fan of malls.   However, I wanted to see Mall of America because the descriptions of its size were bogglingly large (78 football fields?) and it seemed a curiosity.  I did enjoy seeing it (and being treated to socks at Little MissMatched, thank you, kind friend), and yes, it was bogglingly large.

    Although I am not a big fan of malls, I am a big fan of Lego.  Consequently this view caused me to stop and stare a bit.

    The blue legs you can barely see behind the bridge belong to a fearsome sort of machine, right.  If you love Lego, you ought visit this store (or the one at Water Tower Place in Chicago, which I've heard is comparable).  They have kits for sale from most of their major lines: Technics, City, Star Wars, Architecture.  Yes, if you were wondering, I bought one.  I waffled between Anakin Skywalker's pod and Luke Skywalker's vehicle that floats (can't remember the name) and finally settled on a real-world mining truck.  With a boulder and gold crystals.  And a Lego guy with a plaid shirt and a beard!  Does it get better than that?  I gave the kit to a sibling of mine as a gift.  However, if I'd been a child visiting this store, I think I'd probably have wanted handfuls and handfuls from this wall of bricks.

    They didn't have this many colors when I was little.  Pout.

The hardest part of a trip to describe is the just hanging around, enjoying the area, not particularly sightseeing.  I enjoyed that as much as "seeing things."  Minneapolis-Saint Paul seems to be a great area to hang around in.  The cities are clean and situated beautifully.  Check it out!

View of Minneapolis over Lake Calhoun

Are you taking a trip this summer?  I'd love to hear about it!
NB:  All photos in this post are by me and belong to me.  You're welcome to pin them but please no copying. : )

18 June 2012

08 June 2012

A Poem for the Middle of the Day.


One day a woman, gently bowed,
As with his easy yoke,
Stood on the borders of the crowd
Listening as Jesus spoke.

She saw the garment knit throughout;
Forgot the words he spake;
Thought only "Happy hands that wrought
The honoured robe to make!"

Her eyes with longing tears grew dim:
She never can come nigh
To do one service poor for him
For whom she glad would die.

Across the crowd, borne on the breeze,
Comes - "Inasmuch as ye
Did it unto the least of these,
Ye did it unto me."

Home, home she went, and plied the loom,
And God's dear poor arrayed.
She died - they wept about the room,
And showed the coats she made.
                                    George MacDonald


I like this poem for its economy of words and thoughtful story.

A Poem for the Middle of the Night.


Nobody knows the world but me.
When they're all in bed, I sit up to see.
I'm a better student than students all,
For I never read till the darkness fall;
And I never read without my glasses,
And that is how my wisdom passes.

I can see the wind.  Now who can do that?
I see the dreams that he has in his hat;
I see him snorting them out as he goes -
Out at his stupid old trumpet-nose.
Ten thousand things that you couldn't think,
I write them down with pen and ink.

You may call it learning - I call it wit.
Who else can watch the lady-moon sit
Hatching the boats and the long-legged fowl,
On her nest, the sea, all night, but the owl?
When the oysters gape to sing by rote,
She crams a pearl down each stupid throat.

So you see I know - you may pull off your hat,
Whether round and lofty, or square and flat.
You can never do better than trust to me;
You may shut your eyes so long as I see.
While you live I will lead you, and then - I'm the owl -
I will bury you nicely with my spade and showl.
                                                                  George MacDonald

This poem makes me laugh for its mix of didactic tone, grotesque imagery, and downright oddity.