Friday, August 28, 2009

Message from a Clan Mother

On Monday Nancy & I checked into the Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center nestled in the forested Catskill Mountains where every morning we see deer. We’re attending An Esoteric Quest for Inner America: Exploring the History and Renewal of the American Soul sponsored by the Open Center in New York City.

The conference opened with remarks from Freida Jacques, an Onondaga Iroquois clan mother. She told us about her people’s deep spirituality. Instead of worshipping, they give thanks to everything in creation. People spend a long time enumerating all that they are thankful for: the trees that provide shade, nuts and fruits, and syrup; the four-legged animals without which humans would be so lonely; the four winds—the south wind that brings warmth, the north wind that brings the cold so that the earth can sleep and renew itself, etc. They like to say “I am thankful for what I have; I have what I have.”

The Onondaga do not have casinos. A casino would mean:
· Having to sign legal papers
· Having to give up a chunk of land
· People gathering not in thanksgiving, but in greed, the “antithesis of contentment”

When the colonists landed in America, they found flourishing societies where women had rights and power. The clan mothers selected the chief. Since clan members felt responsible for each other and shared everything, they could do without all the laws the colonist brought with them from Europe.

Freida Jacques expressed alarm at the level of violence in our culture. Her clan does not allow children to play games (especially video games) that involve killing anything, whether human or monster. They believe that killing in play is unhealthy, instills a lack of respect for life, and models unsafe behavior.

When the founders of the United States were formulating our government , they borrowed concepts from the Iroquois Nation, including the separation of powers and a republican form of representation modeled on individual tribal governance (state government) and councils comprised of a union of the tribes (federal government.) Ben Franklin, who was familiar with the Iroquois, wrote in 1770 that no “civilized” person who had lived with the “savages” could “afterwards bear to live in our societies” (Franklin Papers, vol. 17, p. 381).

Freida Jacques was one of several presenters who acknowledged the deep debt owed to the Native Peoples for the wisdom embodied in this country’s founding documents. Her talk, at least for Nancy and me, grounded the entire conference.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Button Bay Memories

When I was 16, I was chosen to attend the third International Senior Girl Scout Roundup. Ten thousand teen-aged girls from every state and many other countries camped from July 27 to August 3, 1962, at Button Bay State Park on the shores of Vermont’s Lake Champlain. The requirements were stiff and the competition fierce for this tri-annual cream of the crop campout showcasing the best of Girl Scouting.

With seven other lucky girls representing the Peace Pipe Council of southwest Minnesota, I boarded the train in St. Paul for the 2-day trip to Burlington, VT. We wore our green dress uniforms and white gloves. Our gear was marked with the number on the official dog tag around our neck so that any lost items could be returned to their owners. (I occasionally run across a beach towel on which I had inked 4M1032, more indelibly imprinted in my memory than my social security number or any address I’ve had since.) We each carried hundreds of little gifts showing facets of our home town or culture, items we had made ourselves to exchange with Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from around the world in “potlatch” ceremonies.

Thousands of army tents pitched in a huge grassy field housed and fed the girls, our troop leaders, and the many volunteers who ran this temporary city. I threw myself into the Roundup, attending as many activities as I could, and meeting hundreds of fabulous girls. I walked to the amphitheater in my beloved camp uniform – sleek forest-green shorts, a crisp white blouse, green Girl Scout socks, and my straw Roundup hat. I sat on the grassy slope overlooking Lake Champlain for the opening ceremony, as moving as any Olympics opening ceremony. Imagine singing “Make New Friends” in harmony with 10,000 voices, the first part beginning about 2 blocks away, with each part coming closer until it was your turn.
We sang all week. One afternoon at the amphitheater, I thrilled to Basque Girl Guides in brilliant native costumes performing complicated Basque dances. I was from a rural village. If you had given me a map of Spain before that day, I couldn’t have pointed to Basque country.
I stayed up late around campfires, singing the Girl Scout songs we all knew and making many new friends. I wanted the week to last forever. I vowed to attend the next roundup as a staff member so I could experience the magic again. (I did, in 1965, in Farragut, Idaho.)
This week, Becky I visited Button Bay State Park. We had a picnic and walked a trail through the forest to Lake Champlain. It was even more beautiful than I remembered. A park ranger pointed out a tall white pine tree that the Girl Scouts had planted in the meadow 47 years ago. Suddenly I remembered the tree-planting ceremony. He suggested we look for a commemorative plaque at its base.

There it was, a testament to the creative genius of an organization that, although it called off the huge, expensive Roundups after Idaho, continues to support and empower girls all over the globe.

(To learn about other Roundups and inspiring Girl Scout experiences, you can read my book On My Honor: Lesbians Reflect on Their Scouting Experiences, available from on-line book dealers or directly from me.)


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stowed Away!

The annual Manahan reunion has flown by, the seven days filled with fun and relaxation. At the checkout at the end of our stay, several people rated it an A+. Winding Brook Lodge was perfect. This rambling 1940s resort has 15 bedrooms and a large living room where we all could gather. Secluded nooks invited playing cards, putting together a puzzle, or reading. The huge well-stocked kitchen, with four sinks and a six-burner stove, made cooking for 42 almost easy, and the dining room seated us all. But the crowning jewel was the swimming pool—the 14 children practically lived in it, and the adults loved both swimming and sitting around the edge watching the kids frolic.

Nancy and I learned to love letterboxing—an outdoor hunt for a hidden box with a notebook and rubber stamp inside. It’s a great way to get kids outside and practicing navigational skills. Our nieces copied the directions for the searches from websites such as Pictured above is a find of a red fox stamp off the 5-mile paved Stowe Recreation Path.

We took several hikes along this beautiful biking/walking path sans letterboxing, and also an hour’s stroll through Wiessner Woods, an 80-acre preserve just a half mile from our Lodge. The trails wound through fragrant white pine, and the path was littered with needles, making our footfalls soft and silent. At the base of one pine tree, a gnome surprised us.

One afternoon Nancy and I went to the nearby Ben & Jerry's plant. We took the tour for $3.00, saw an inspirational documentary about the visionary ice cream makers, and sampled a flavor released last September 21 on the 39th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s legendary “Bed-In for Peace” event. Imagine Whirled Peace features a sweet cream base with swirls of caramel plus toffee bits and chocolate peace signs. It’s delicious. Ben & Jerry's (now owned by Unilever but with social and environmental responsibility as part of its mission) donates a portion of the proceeds to Peace One Day. Way cool.
We are impressed with Vermont! The forested hills and mountains remind me of the Black Forest, and I can see why Maria Von Trapp’s family settled near Stowe. The Trapp Family Lodge (pictured left) is a couple of miles up the hill from Winding Brook. It's a mini-version of the Austrian Alps. Nancy & I occasionally couldn’t help but break into a tune from “The Sound of Music.”

Reunions are an unparalleled precious time to reconnect and tighten the bonds of family. This week was manna for the Manahans . . . and for me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On to Vermont!

After spending a couple of weeks at home in Minneaapolis, Nancy and I again took to the road. This time the high road . . . to Vermont via Canada. The drive across northern Wisconsin and southern Canada was more beautiful than we had expected, with mile after mile of dense pine and fir forests. We lunched at wooded rest stops beside pristine lakes and rivers.

After a night in Escanaba, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we crossed an enormous bridge at Sault St. Marie which spans the rapids of St. Mary’s River connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron. Picnicking in a park beside the water, we raised a root beer in honor of our first hour as a legally married couple since our California honeymoon last September. The whole wonderful country of Canada recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Our second night was in Sudbury, Ontario, an old copper mining town on a picturesque island-studded lake. The closure of the mines has hit Sudbury hard, and that evening we walked through a run-down neighborhood past a homeless shelter to Bell Park, pictured above.

The third night we stayed with our friend from Costa Rica, Ghislaine Yergeau, and her husband, Bill. They live in French-speaking Gatineau, Québec, just across the river from English-speaking Ottawa. Ghislaine doesn’t lock her car, and didn’t hesitate to take us for a 9 pm walk on a paved path along the Ottawa River.

On our way through Ottawa the next morning, we walked around Parliament Hill, marveling at the huge stone copper-roofed government palaces. We were impressed by how gorgeous and green Canada’s capital city is.

Two and a half hours east of Ottawa, we lunched in Montréal’s old quarter, enjoying the narrow cobblestone streets and quaint shops. An example of an interesting restaurant exterior is pictured below. Nancy struck up a conversation with a bicyclist resting beside the St. Lawrence Seaway only to discover, when the woman answered in rapid French, that our English, Spanish, and high school French might not be that useful in Québec.

Onward to Stowe, Vermont for the annual week-long Manahan family reunion. This time the border crossing was quick and easy. (We could have taken the fresh Ontario peaches we left with Ghislaine.) We snaked up winding roads through Smuggler’s Notch, a pass in the Green Mountains where American slaves escaped to Canada and decades later, Prohibition bootleg liquor flowed into Vermont from Canada. At Winding Brook Lodge, nestled in the mountains, we met up with 40 of Nancy’s nearest and dearest family members. After a day of this many Manahans, I’m going to take a nap!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Voyageurs National Park

The only national park in Minnesota (and one of the few in the whole Midwest) is Voyageurs National Park on Kabetogama (pronounced Cab-ah-TOE-gah-mah) Lake on the Ontario, Canada border. It is part of the waterway that the 18th and 19th-century fur traders used. These French-Canadian voyageurs paddled 300-pound birch bark canoes 2000-3000 miles to fetch the beaver pelts so popular for European men’s hats that the beaver came close to extinction.

Voyageurs is a gorgeous wilderness, not as busy as the popular Boundary Waters Canoe Area on its southeastern flank. It was created in 1975 and abuts two Minnesota state forests where camping and trails are available. Voyageurs National Park’s campsites are accessible only by boat. Same with the trails, except for a small one by the visitor center, overlooking Kabetogama Lake.

We thought we might stay near Voyageurs, but the lodging was outside our budget--not surprising for a resort area. So we headed south and stayed at a mom & pop motel in Orr, MN. We heated our last hot dogs and beans in the lobby microwave, cracked open a Summit Great Northern Porter from our cooler, and enjoyed a picnic in our room. Perhaps not as tasty as our campfire meals, but we were clean, dry, and warm. Ahhhh! What a sweet end to our exploration of Minnesota's northwestern corner.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Franz Jevne State Park

Coming off the disappointment of Zipple Bay State Park, Nancy and I screwed up our courage for a bonus stop at Franz Jevne State Park. It wasn't on our original itinerary, but we were so close we thought we should stop.

We drove through rainstorms to get to this small, unstaffed park on the beautiful Rainy River separating Minnesota from Canada. We circled the cold, empty campground, disheartened by the 18 wet, dark, cramped sites. As we filled our water bottles from a creaky hand pump, Nancy asked me on a scale of 1 to 10 how much I wanted to stay there--10 being we absolutely must stay.

"Oh, about a .5," I replied. "What about you?"

"Point 2," she grinned. "Let's go."

We tossed our raincoats in the back seat, left Franz Jevne, and headed for home...but we were side-tracked -- the subject of my next blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Zipple Bay State Park

At last Nancy and I reached the park we had most looked forward to--Zipple Bay on Lake of the Woods, just 8 miles from Canada. Neither Nancy nor I had ever seen the huge lake that comprises the notch at the top of Minnesota, jutting into Manitoba. Lake of the Woods has 65,000 miles of shoreline (yes, sixty-five thousand!) and over 14,000 islands. It is an angler's paradise.

It was not our Garden of Eden, however. The campsites seemed neglected and inhospitable with long grass, scrubby vegetation, and fierce mosquitoes. There were clean outhouses in the campground, but the showers were at the entrance to the park, a long ways away. The lake was brownish-gray, too cold for swimming (though Nancy tried), and the beaches smelled like dead fish. We wound up staying only one night at the park that had been the original goal of the whole trip!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hayes Lake State Park

Hayes Lake, a tiny park we had never even heard of, was our favorite of the whole trip. What a gem! We had moved east from the prairie, through aspen-oak stands and into coniferous forests. For the first time we were in the northern Minnesota that's familiar to us--the tall red and white pines, and a lake that could be in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area . . . except that it was created by a dam on the Roseau River.

We stayed two nights under the pines, enjoying the quiet, meticulous campground. It was clear that the staff takes pride in their park. The large picnic area and sandy swimming beach are lovingly maintained.

On the morning of our last day, we woke to deep pink clouds--one of the most beautiful daybreaks we have ever seen, a magical way to end our stay at Hayes Lake.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lake Bronson State Park

Lake Bronson State Park is a little northeast of Old Mill State Park, just 20 miles from the Canadian border. The WPA created the lake on which the park is situated by damming the Two Rivers, a daunting task by in those days. Given the extreme weather and relentless mosquitoes, there was a high turnover of workers. How bad were the mosquitoes? Well, they couldn't figure out why so many horses were dying, so they autopsied them and discovered severe lung inflammation caused by inhaling so many mosquitoes.

The stone work of the WPA is really magnificent, especially the tower/fire lookout station. It’s the only dual-purpose tower in the state park system.

We loved our two nights at Lake Bronson. The huge campsites were widely-spaced, and the trails through prairies in full bloom and aspen-oak forests were well-maintained. With so few campers, it was peaceful reading or dozing in a hammock. One morning we rented a canoe for a leisurely paddle up the slow, winding river past beaver lodges and what looked like moose hoof-prints. We had the entire river to ourselves.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Old Mill State Park

The first night of our camping trip to the northwest corner of Minnesota we stayed at Old Mill State Park, near the border with North Dakota. As Nancy and I sat by the campfire finishing our hot dogs, sprinkles started, and then rain blew in. The wet, cold, and wind kept us in the tent all night. But the next morning dawned clear, and we explored the park which contains both prairie and oak savannah. There's a lovely swimming hole created by the CCC in the late 1930s and a beautifully-crafted stone bath house.

The focal point of the park is, of course, the Old Mill itself. Lars Larson homesteaded the area in 1882 and built the grist mill, which became an important social hub in the Red River Valley. Hundreds of people used to gather for picnics there when they hauled their grain to be milled. Once a year the mill is started up and visitors can catch a glimpse of the way our hardy ancestors lived.

Eons ago this area was the lake bed of Lake Agassiz, which covered the entire state. The land now is amazingly flat and fertile. The fields of wheat and rape seed (canola) stretch to the horizon.