Vachel Lindsay and a WAND book update

Today, the Writer’s Almanac informs me, is the birthday of American poet Vachel Lindsay (1879–1931). I became intrigued by Lindsay when I read in his Writer’s Almanac bio, “After struggling [as an artist and poet] for several years and working for a time in the toy department of Marshall Field’s, he decided to walk across the United States, trading his poems and pictures for food and shelter along the way.” Unfortunately, it was rough going: “No one cared for my pictures, no one cared for my verse, and I turned beggar in sheer desperation … [but] I was entirely prepared to die for my work, if necessary, by the side of the road, and was almost at the point of it at times.”

Vachel Lindsay

Vachel Lindsay (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Could Lindsay have walked through North Dakota? If so, I could add him to my essay “Walks That Came Before” in The Walk Across North Dakota. But it seems unlikely. His bio on the Poetry Foundation’s website states that he walked from Florida to Kentucky in 1906 and from Illinois to Colorado and New Mexico in 1912. Though his experiences as an itinerant artist were disappointing for him in ways, I admire him for the effort.

The latest on The Walk Across North Dakota is that we are nearing the end of revising the book in response to a scholarly review, required for all NDSU Institute of Regional Studies Press manuscripts. We’ve added a lot of terrific content, more than 10,000 words. The book should be available in spring 2015.


A Weekend in Walhalla, ND: The Pembina Gorge and More

Four years ago I was talking with a Bismarck friend whose job entails traveling all around North Dakota, and I asked him which part of the state he thought was the most beautiful. He answered that it was probably the Pembina Gorge, and ever since then I’ve wanted to visit that far northeast region. I wondered how it would compare to my beloved Turtle Mountains and Lake Metigoshe, just as far north but about 130 miles west of the Gorge. So earlier this summer, my husband Bruce and I decided to plan a weekend trip to Walhalla, where we would stay at the Sanctuary Guest House bed and breakfast and see the Gorge and other local sights.

We left home (Moorhead, Minn.) in the early evening on Friday, August 8. I had been missing the trees and hills of the northern Minnesota Iron Range, having been there in mid-July for a classical music festival, so the timing of our trip turned out well. (Of course, a Red River Valley dweller might feel the need for a bit of topographical contrast at any time of year.)

Scarcely another car crossed our path after we turned off I-29 north of Grand Forks. As we neared Walhalla, wheat fields with scattered shelterbelts rather quickly became more wooded and sloping land. When we arrived at Sanctuary House around 9:15 p.m., I was pleasantly surprised by the four tall, decorative columns supporting the front of the white house. I’m partial to that grand old style. We went inside and met the co-owner Deirdre, who showed us to the Granada room, with décor that seemed Moroccan-influenced and a private balcony. (Now I’ve looked up Granada, and though it’s near Morocco it’s actually in Spain.)

Light Fixture

Over the next two days I appreciated the comfortable, calming accommodations of our bedroom, the shared guest bathroom, and the common rooms downstairs. The house had many decorative touches, like an oak leaf-shaped nightlight in the bathroom and a beautiful light fixture in our bedroom, but didn’t feel cluttered.

We didn’t want to do much after our arrival except wind down for the night, so we took a quick drive around town and then read magazines in the main floor sitting room of the house before going to bed. Breakfast the next morning at 8:30, at the Holly Street Eatery inside the house, was a chicken, vegetable, and egg scramble, peach streusel muffins, mango juice, and good, strong coffee. Even as we enjoyed breakfast I studied the chalkboard menu on the wall in anticipation of lunch.

Towards the end of breakfast, Deirdre brought us several maps and a few brochures and helped us formulate a plan for the day. We came up with quite the schedule for what a few days ago was “hike in the Gorge and find something else to do”: drive a short way to a scenic overlook of the Tetrault State Forest, hike Tetrault for an hour or two, drive to the Gingras Trading Post state historic site, have lunch at the eatery, check out the arts festival at the Walhalla school yard (including a jazz trio performance), kayak the Pembina River, have dinner at the town diner (or the bar, Deirdre said, “if you’re in the mood for fried mushrooms and pizza”), take an evening ATV tour through the Gorge with Deirdre and Mike, the Pembina Gorge Recreation Area manager, and cap the evening with a bottle of wine on our balcony.

Sanctuary House

Columns and the view of the yard from the Sanctuary House balcony

After breakfast, before setting out, we sipped coffee as we wandered around the grounds. It occurred to me as we lingered in the side yard, with wrought iron furniture, lanterns, and a fire pit, that this B&B would be a great place for a multi-family getaway or a girls’ weekend. I’ll have to make sure not to forget my passport next time, though. Canada is only minutes away, and I learned from Deirdre later in the day that Winkler, a Manitoba town of about 11,000 located 17 miles from Walhalla, is a nice place to drive for dinner (her eatery only serves breakfast and lunch).

View

View from the Masonic Overlook

Elk Sculpture

Elk sculpture at the Masonic Overlook

Flowers

Flowers along the Tetrault State Forest trail

The scenic overlook and hike through the state forest were pleasant, though we wished the forest trail were a bit longer—it took less than an hour to reach the dead end at a marsh and retrace our path. Next was the Gingras Trading Post, only about 10 minutes away. From a certain point of view, I have to admit, visiting this site feels like seeing two boring buildings in a boring field. But when you imagine what it must have been like in the 1840-70s, when the trading post was active, you can appreciate the experience a lot more. Approaching the post back then, you would have felt a surge of excitement, as Bruce put it, about the chance to get new materials and the latest news.

Gingras house

Scalloped detail on the Gingras house

The interiors of the two buildings, the old house especially, are well maintained and full of informative displays. Jeff the docent was friendly and helpful. At the trading post, they offer some basic complimentary refreshments, and Bruce and I chatted briefly with a resident from the region who had grown up speaking French at home. This was a nice real-life enhancement to the posted information about Métis (largely French and Chippewa-influenced) culture. I appreciated the reminder of cultural diversity in a part of the world, the upper Midwest, that often strikes me as not very culturally diverse on the surface. Before leaving Gingras, we bought a stuffed prairie dog for our newborn nephew.

Map

A map of old trading routes that I found particularly interesting

Lunch back at the eatery was delicious. I had spring pea soup, a side salad with a variety of colorful vegetables, and a coconut cream trifle; Bruce had a BLT on focaccia. There were three parties having lunch besides us. After the meal I walked a few blocks to the annual Rendezvous Art and Heritage Festival and listened to the Sneaky Wild Oats jazz trio while lying back on the grass. The festival was small, with only a few art booths and some children’s activities, but I enjoyed watching a woman assist a young girl spin yarn at a spinning wheel for a while.

Jazz trio

The Sneaky Wild Oats jazz trio performing at the arts festival

Spinning wheel

Spinning wheel demonstration

Our next activity, kayaking, turned out to be intimidating at first. We put in at a spot that was wider and busier with rapids than I had expected, though I’m sure to an experienced kayaker it was relatively tame. Bruce’s seat indentation filled up with water with almost right away when we went over rapids, and the same thing happened to me about halfway through the ride. We passed a few groups of locals tubing but no other kayakers. I was hoping to see at least one turtle sunning itself on a log or rock, but no luck there. We were both glad we took the option of a shorter and more scenic route instead of the less scenic route about twice as long that Deirdre and Mike had originally planned for us. It was good to try kayaking, but there probably aren’t any long excursions of the kind in our future.

Dinner at the Walhalla Inn, which we ended up trying instead of the diner or bar, was serviceable. We had two-for-one cocktails, Bruce had ribs at the buffet, and I had a quesadilla.

Our post-dinner ATV ride through the Gorge on two loops of multi-use trail—Bruce rode with Mike and I rode with Deirdre—was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was a neat way to see the area, but I think I prefer hiking in general because an ATV ride, turns out, is rather dusty and loud. I was well advised by both Deirdre and Bruce not to shower until after the ride. We did see some beautiful views across the gorge, though most of the trail cuts through woods, and I liked being able to cover much more ground than we would have been able to on foot. The whole excursion, including getting to and from the trailhead, took about two hours.

During the ride, Deirdre—who also works 15 hours a week at the Walhalla Chamber—and I discussed the future of the Frostfire ski hill, currently owned and operated by an elderly couple that wants to retire before long. The state legislature recently rejected a proposal for the state to buy Frostfire. Deirdre’s view is that it would be a much better location for the recreation area headquarters than the current arrangement, and she doesn’t want to see the ski hill become some millionaire’s playground. I agreed on both counts.

We had to get back to Moorhead by midday on Sunday, so after an 8:30 breakfast of waffles we said goodbye to Deirdre and drove a few miles for one last outing, a short hike in Icelandic State Park on one of the trails in Susan Wefald’s book Spectacular North Dakota Hikes: Bring the Dog. I’d like to return to the park—it has a nice interpretive center and apparently a nice beach, which we would have checked out if not for a road detour. Parts of the Shady Springs Trail were lined with wild raspberry bushes, so I ate a couple raspberries as we walked along in the sunlight-dappled shade.

So how does the Pembina Gorge compare to the Turtle Mountains? In terms of scenic beauty, the Gorge may have a bit of an edge, though only a bit. Memories of several Turtle Mountains trips do make it a more special place for me, still, but I do want to go back to Walhalla and the Gorge to make additional memories there. Deirdre remarked to me at one point that the place she lives is one of the most overlooked spots within a state that in turn is one of the most overlooked spots in the country. I hope more people will get to know it, as we’re happy we did.

 

 


Publishing News

On National Trails Day, we have exciting news about the trail we forged across North Dakota in 2011 and 2013: The Walk Across North Dakota is going to be published by the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies Press!

According to the Institute, it will take about six months to produce print and digital editions of the book . We’ll be sure to post an update here when they’re available for purchase. We are also considering the creation of a separate website for the book.

IMG_1559


Not such a blank rectangle these days…

Today I attended the ND Bloggers & Writers Worship (sponsored by the ND Dept. of Commerce) at the downtown Fargo Radisson. I learned a lot and tried to sow a bit of interest in the WAND book, but I was also distracted a few times by thoughts of this blog–namely its name and the concept behind it.

North Dakota as a blank rectangle. Is it these days? Sure, there are still plenty of people around the country and certainly around the globe who conjure up a big ol’ blank at the name “North Dakota.” But from what I have seen since I moved back to Fargo-Moorhead last summer, including at events like today’s workshop, that is changing.

index

It’s not just the oil development in western ND that’s getting attention. North Dakota seems to be gaining recognition as a great place for entrepreneurs of all kinds, as I see almost weekly at One Million Cups gatherings in Fargo (Bismarck also hosts these meet-ups). People around the state are blogging about rural life and gaining strong followings (Jessie Veeder Scofield, whose photos have appeared on this blog, and Jenny Dewey Rohrich are two bloggers who spoke at the workshop). And now there’s the new Fargo TV series. Whether or not that turns out to be an accurate portrayal (and what would “accurate” mean in the context of storytelling?), it still puts a national spotlight on the city and perhaps the whole state.

The Blank Rectangle. I’ve been in many North Dakota spots that will probably never achieve the faintest amount of recognition outside the state or even their county. Still, “blank” doesn’t seem like the best way to describe what people think of us these days.


Update on WAND book and a freewrite

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here–or even visited the blog. For the past several months I’ve been playing the publishing waiting game with the second edition of the WAND book (the first edition being the self-published version we gave to donors in early 2012). Recently I received news from a publisher that our manuscript has been preliminarily accepted for publication, pending a review of a final manuscript. So I am doing another round of editing on the manuscript, and I hope to be able to share the news soon that we are definitely being published.

Meanwhile, I want to share a freewrite I did at the UND Writers Conference this past week. I attended a fiction workshop led by Brian Maxwell, who had us brainstorm North Dakota places then choose one place to write about with specific detail. I had thrown out small-town bars during our brainstorm, so I came up with this during our freewriting period:

I’ve seen these rows of many-flavored vodkas before–they were in the last town’s bar, and the town before that. What is the appeal of these marshmallow vodkas and grape vodkas–this brand of vodka called UV? Is it as mundane as a charismatic distribution salesperson? Or do these bottles with pineapples and birthday cakes strike sunburned, boot-clad North Dakotans as exotic? Maybe they brighten up the bitter winters and dusty summers. Bright green vodka for a pure white day. Candy pink vodka for harvest time.

Do I really believe this brand of alcohol could strike North Dakotans as exotic? I don’t know. I’m sure it’s true for at least one person, but it makes me feel condescending to have speculated that. It sounded good in the moment, anyway.


The End of the WAND

The End of the WAND

Gwen and Richard crossing the bridge to Moorhead (photo by Bruce).


The WAND Part II Approaches

This June, three members of the original WAND team – Richard, Bruce, and Gwen – will set out from Bismarck to complete the journey across North Dakota. This journey, for any readers unfamiliar with us, began in June 2011 with the additional participation of Jeremy and Tyler Bold. We walked from the Montana border near Beach to Bismarck over 14 days, roughly paralleling I-94. In this second stage, we will walk from Bismarck to the Minnesota border near Fargo, over 13 days. With a longer average daily mileage and less training due to life circumstances, we anticipate some hardships, but we also know we’re in for adventure and a great bonding experience. Like before, we will be documenting our travel with journals and some photos (probably not as much photography as last time). After the trip, Gwen will work on a final version of the book we self-published in January 2012, The Walk Across North Dakota, and seek a publisher.

Image

The WAND II Team


WAND Reunion!

WAND Reunion!

The WAND team reunited for a walk through the North Dakota State Capitol grounds on December 27, 2012.


Long, endless WANDering

…it felt like we were walking forever at times…VOID — the horizon — that we endlessly stared into…and when the day’s end finally came, the packs crashing at our collapsing feet…silence; we found ourselves free.

At long last, here is some of the footage I collected from the WAND.

I’ve often been meditating on the nature of time since we completed the WAND, especially relative to my time in the City.  (Maybe you can tell from the video.)

Over the last year-ish, I’ve gone to a whole new level of relativity; it’s amazing how different the world seems when you are not serving to a Master like the Boss…the Clock…”Society.”

They all demand you at Once, and if you pay them all of your attention, it will likely make you insane.

North Dakota still seems to offer something there: a place beyond the servitude toward these times, a place that is liberated and free.  You will discover the world of Non-Obligated Time.

This video features a song called “The Void,” by Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar; although, I will not claim that all the lyrics speak to this scene, the sound seemed right.

A piece of advice: go wandering, wherever you can.  Find a place where there is no time and spend a moment there.  Don’t look for the moment, just keep waiting.  You won’t find it until after it is realized.

This is a space that few others can understand, a space beyond sanity, and invaluable in a world of schizophrenic times.


Face of Green wheat stocks

Face of Green wheat stocks

Face of Green wheat stocks,
eyes locked in natural thatch –
Waiting for the sun.


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