Archive for September, 2011

Hiatus After ND Events

Friday, September 30th, 2011

After a busy first week of events in North Dakota, with a short TV interview, a radio interview on KFYR in Bismarck, and a convocation at Jamestown College all in the same (umbrella-inverting rainy and windy) day, and then a terrific time at the ND Library Association annual conference, I had four full days at my sister’s lake home in Minnesota.

The winds calmed, the sun came out, the temperature rose. Gorgeous. In between here:

And here:

I finished Moby Dick.

We actually did get out of our chairs now and then, to plant perennials and shrubs, and best of all, to take a long walk in gorgeous Maplewood Park nearby.

Now it’s on to the Twin Cities for a discussion tomorrow morning (October 1) with readers from the Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 10715 Zenith Avenue South Bloomington, MN 55431, at 10:30 a.m. Visitors are welcome!

Minot, North Dakota: post-flood

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Three months ago you may have been watching news stories and videos about the flooding of the Souris River (locally known as the Mouse River) in Minot, North Dakota, that put 12,000 residents, or one-fourth of the city’s population, out of their homes. The flood waters didn’t recede for about three weeks, leaving thousands of homes and businesses uninhabitable. This afternoon, after spending the morning talking with members of the North Dakota Library Association (who had chosen Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For as their 2011 conference “book club” book) and then speaking at the noon luncheon, I went for a walk through block after block of flood-gutted neighborhoods.

After a half-day of using the pronouns “I” and “me” way too often, it was a sobering walk, all the more disconcerting under a perfect, cloudless, azure sky . (An aside: I have a college buddy who has lived and worked in Manhattan for the past 20 years, and who is now working in Minot as a consultant for a year. Visiting last night over our ritual martinis I asked how often she got back to New York. Her contract allowed her to return every two weeks, she said, but at one point she realized that she hadn’t been back East for a couple of months. “I just couldn’t leave the sky,” she explained.)

I took pictures of gutted houses, of For Sale signs and doors littered with official notices, of debris and mud, of backhoes leveling the dikes that just couldn’t do enough, of FEMA trailers, of children’s toys in gutters, and of evergreen trees that stand, along with the silt-filthed siding on houses, as records of the final flood level: dead branches that were too long under water separated by a straight line from the green foliage above. And when I returned to my hotel room, I deleted most of the pictures, for, one by one, they diminished, rather than proved the destruction. Here, however, are a few:

Note the sandbags, no match for the rising river.

I was reminded of the time I spent in Louisiana in 2005 after Katrina, and of the day that another volunteer and I drove through New Orleans in our Red Cross truck, creeping along deserted streets and overpasses strewn with items that had been transformed from personal belongings to debris by a disaster. The destruction in Minot is exponentially smaller in comparison, but comparisons don’t matter much if it’s your house, your home that has been lost.

This is not, of course, where the story ends. North Dakotans are a contradictory people, expecting to be regularly humbled by the cavalier power of floods, blizzards, drought, and wind, and equally determined to restamp the land with their own particular brand of tidy order. The community is busy reclaiming and rebuilding, and although the flood-ravaged neighborhoods are eerily lacking the sounds of doors slamming, phones ringing, children playing, and music blaring from passing cars, they are not silent. One by one houses are being stripped down to the studs, so the remodeling and rebuilding can begin. Backhoes are clearing debris. Dump trucks and contractors’ pickups are everywhere.

I don’t mean to be glib. This is not a happily-ever-after story. Too many of the people put out of their homes by the flood of 2011 will never return to the home they once knew. And yet, there is a spirit in this place that is hard to define. Rounding the corner of a seemingly empty block, I came upon a woman mowing…well, not her lawn, exactly, but the weeds that had worked their way through the muck where a lawn once had been. Was that her house, I asked? “For now,” she replied, adding that she didn’t know the exact wording for the financial/legal process underway concerning her mortgage, but she supposed that the house was going back to the original owners. In the meantime, she was living in the tiny FEMA trailer next to the gutted house. I wished her luck and was about to walk away, when she added, “I’ll get lights up on the trailer, though. For Christmas. My girls will like that.”

One last picture. In the midst of block after block of empty houses I came upon this house, tidily restored to a determined cheerfulness. Given the house’s recent history, a doorstep knickknack carrying the words, “God Bless This House,” seems less like kitsch than defiant optimism.

Back in NoDak (and beyond)

Monday, September 19th, 2011

I’m back in North Dakota for several events this week. Tomorrow I’m on the KXMB-TV (CBS) Noon Show with Marci Narum (Bismarck), and then I head to Jamestown for a Jamestown College Convocation (7 p.m., Voorhees Chapel, public welcome). I’ll be reading from Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For and talking about the changing role of the author in the brave new world of publishing. On Wednesday I go to Minot for the three-day 2011 North Dakota Library Association Conference, where Dakota has been chosen for the conference book club session. I’m looking forward to all of it, and to later events that will take me to the Twin Cities (MN), Deadwood (SD), and Billings (MT).

I will have pictures, podcasts, and updates along the way, as well as some interesting stories (I hope).

Great Party!

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Last night a good friend in Ann Arbor, Michigan, hosted a book party to which she invited several of her friends who were eager to talk about Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For. I read some passages from the novel, and then we had a great discussion (laced with comparisons of Dakota to other 19th-century novels) about the challenges, restrictions, and possibilities for women at this time, about the definition of family, about so many other things (including a good deal of speculation about what happened in the days, weeks, and years following the last page of the novel). It was a privilege to be in the company of these close, smart readers. Thanks, Peggy, for making this happen! Good food, nice wine, lively conversation…a night to remember.

2011 High Plains BookFest Emeritus Award Winner Announced

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

The High Plains Book Awards Committee has selected North Dakota writer Larry Woiwode as its 2011 Emeritus Award Winner. I will be at the BookFest, in Billings, MT, October 13-15, as Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For is a finalist for the High Plains Best Woman Writer Award. Winners will be announced at an awards banquet on the 15th.

Given four free days between an earlier engagement at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood, and the High Plains BookFest in Billings, I have an image of myself, quietly tucked into the gorgeous south-central Montana landscape, with time just to write. Any suggestions for where that should be?