It has been a while since I last posted anything.  July 2017, actually, seems to be the last time I wrote anything here.  I could say that I was busy, which would be true.  But, I certainly had the bits of time – here and there – that would have allowed me to post something had I wanted to do that.  But, thoughts that I wanted share just were not there.

The back half of last year has two large events that standout in my mind.  Both personal, but only one that I feel like sharing.

I graduated.  It is not like I am at the top of my field or anything like that.  I simply happy that I stuck through my graduate program and now I can say, I have a masters degree.

With this task now behind, I have been mulling over many-things-computer lately.  Marveling at how, in the early 1990s when I was I becoming interested in computers, I never really thought much about what exactly I wanted to do or be when I grew up.  I simply liked to tinker.  It was not until I was nearly finished with high school that I thought I would likely pursue computer science.  I really did not know what that was — likely computer programming, I had hoped.  I liked computer programming.  I had first been introduce to computer programming on Apple IIe computers when I was in elementary school, in an after school program for kids who liked math.  I was one of those kids who liked math.  I give much of credit to June Hendrickson for introducing myself and a small cohort of kids in the early 1990s in Hibbing.  I do not know how or whether that after school program influenced the others, but it certainly left an impression on me.

Miss Hendrickson introduced me to polynomial algebra and what was basically a gateway drug for me: Apple BASIC.   It was simple and seemed sort of elegant.  Start your program with 10 HOME and just work your way down the file.  Need to jump back to the beginning?  GOTO 10.  Programming clicked, and it would be the thing I did when I got home school, and it was often the thing I was doing before going to bed.

As it turned out, there was something more visual than just Apple BASIC or QBASIC.  Microsoft, in 1993, released Visual Basic 3.0.  An older friend, who was off at college, picked  me up a copy from the campus bookstore.  A graphic user interface with BASIC?  It was great.  I honestly didn’t realize that it was not great, and there were more powerful programming pieces of software available.  Nonetheless, I spent countless hours making small utilities and other bits of software.  The most memorable thing that I made was a piece of software that effectively calculated Riemann sums for assisting calculations related to curvature of a ballistic trajectory.  Like every 12 year old, I had a fascination with the mathematics of projectiles.  Unbeknownst to myself, I had stumbled upon some foundational concepts of calculus: calculating the area under a curve on a graph.

After Visual Basic, there was Borland C and Visual Studio.  I eventually obtained a shell account with the local internet service provider.  This was my first introduction to Unix and specifically SunOS.  Linux was also, at this point, a few years old.  Slackware was the thing to get.  The same friend who had purchased Visual Basic 3.0 for me, also introduced me to Linux.

There has been more since.  A lot more, and yet, I still have those old habits.  Things computers and things software are often the first thing I think about in the morning, and often the last thing I think about before falling asleep.  Even though my occupation is that of Software Engineer.  I still recreationally program, too.  I still tinker.  That screen shot of Visual Basic 3.0 (above) is from my modern day, current MacBook Pro laptop.  It’s Windows for Workgroups 3.11 running in a virtual machine.

Two Pines

Front of the house, with two spruce trees; summer 1988

Growing up, the looming, ever-presence of the two large spruce trees in the front yard was a bit of a constant.  You could look out the front windows, and the two trees were simply there.   You did not give any thought of those two trees not existing. They were just there; on summer evenings, the trees shaded the living and piano rooms; in winter, the orange glow of the shallow-angled sun would flood the living and pianos rooms just under the lowest branches.

In the early 1990s, my father knew a fellow with an increment borer; a bore was made into the tree in the right of the above picture.  It was determined, after counting the ring segments from the bore core, that it was likely the tree had been around since 1927 or 1928  – just a few years after the original structure of the house was built (1924).

Alex, age 5, posing in front of north spruce tree

After the addition to the backside of the house was added in the early 1990s, the room just was above the front door became my bedroom.  During winter, while fretting over something – likely school related – at night, I would stand, looking out the windows into the trees.  On those cold, crisp winter nights, those nights without a cloud in the sky, a sky speckled with stars, I would watch thru the trees the stream rise from stacks of the municipal power plant in Hibbing.

Many Halloweens passed with kids walking beneath the hulking trees, toward the front door…only to be disappointed by not receiving any an answer at the door (my mother hated Halloween); on to the next house, those children would pass under the trees, again.

Countless birds and squirrels likely made use of the trees over the years.  You knew spring was under way when there were squirrels spiraling around, up and down the trees.

There were also several winters in the early 1990s where the trees were temporary shelters for large owls.  The suspicion was that heavy snow and cold weather in Ontario had made finding food difficult and had forced the owls south in search.  They found food in the neighborhood; there were not many squirrels around those winters.

These memories are all within my lifetime.  They are within my history; these trees predated me by over fifty-five years, they predated my parents by at least twenty years, my grandmother Clarice (now deceased) would have been about five years old when these trees came to be.  I tried to reach out to previous occupants or relatives of occupants and that was met with silence.   I also inquired with the Hibbing Historical Society for any old assessors’ photos of the front of the house – no luck there either.

In early August of this year, however, the trees came down.  They had been looking skeletal for a while.  Like a slow burning fire – from bottom to top – the needles dropped and left bare branches.  Large piles of needles formed on the ground.  Branches began to die.  By early July, my parents had arrived upon the decision to have the trees removed.  My mother fretted.

Like many blue spruce trees in Minnesota, the trees had a fungus. Rhizosphaera needle cast was the likely culprit.  The disease is generally not fatal to the tree, but in this case it was doing heavy damage to the trees. So, the trees came down.

There is a bit more to the story, though.  We lined up a sawyer with a portable mill to take the trunk pieces and turn them into lumber.  Nine-hundred board feet of lumber.



Second Sturgeon River Bridge

As a kid, my grandfather and, later, my dad, would take me into the woods and onto the lakes and river-edges of west and central St. Louis, much of Itasca, and parts of Cass counties.  In the spring, it was opening season for walleye and other game fish; I remember launching the boat onto Lake Winnibigoshish, and immediately breaking a thin layer of ice on the lake’s surface with the bow of the boat.

Late spring and early summer, when I was old enough, meant fishing with my dad – and occasionally, a friend of his – on the big lakes that straddle the Canadian border: Namakan, Sand Point, and Crane lakes.  My first venturings onto Canadian soil occurred at the Sand Point customs outpost.  Somewhere, in a box or cabinet at my parents’ house, there is a coffee mug with a red Canadian maple leaf on it; that mug is from one of the several times I passed through that customs outpost; by boat and by seaplane.

Mid-summer and into early August, it was all about evening fishing on Perch Lake (I’ve mentioned this lake in prior writings – here and here).  If I close my eyes and think back to those outings, I can faintly smell the blue exhaust from the 7.5hp Johnson outboard motor; I can picture my grandfather wedged in the bow of the boat with a fishing rod resting on his shoulder – the fishing line pointed out and away as the boat backtrolled.  He wore the goofiest hats and had the oldest life jackets.

Late summer and early fall – that period of time between the day after Labor Day and the first heavy frost – was generally spent fishing from bridges.  Catching bullheads in the St. Louis River in and around the Sax-Zim Bog area was a highpoint of any outing with my grandfather.  If fishing season carried over into the opening of grouse season, a small-bore shotgun was always within reach.

Other times, in the late summer and early fall, instead of heading south to the Sax-Zim area, my grandfather would head north on highway 73.  We would pass county highway 65, and the drive over the first Sturgeon River bridge.  Further up the road, past the Goodell Road, the Sturgeon River crosses highway 73 once more – flowing east to west before meandering north to the Little Fork river.

It is at this river crossing, colloquially (mostly within my family) called the second Sturgeon River bridge, that many fond memories were made.

I could go into those memories; the grouse and deer hunting, beaver trapping and northern pike fishing, but this area with its forests and the river existed before I was brought there by my grandfather and father in the mid-1980s.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - circa 1939
Second Sturgeon River Bridge – circa 1939 (large version)

The photo, above, as the caption says, is from 1939.  That’s forty-one years before I was born.  That’s nine years before my father was born.  My grandfather would have been thirty-six; very close my age now.  To give a bit of context to what you are seeing — start in the longer right corner and follow the thickish-black-curving-line up and toward the left; that is the Sturgeon River.  The first gray/white line to cut across the river is highway 73; that is the second Sturgeon River bridge.  The photos from 1939 are the earliest photos of St. Louis county that I was able to locate.  They are from the University of Minnesota’s Borchert Map Library‘s Aerial Photography and Remote Sensed Imagery collection; this particular photo is part of the work originally sanctioned by the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.  Ramsey county, the county we live in now, here in St. Paul, has photos going back to 1923.

The parts of this photo that I find fascinating are the clearings in the forest.  The largest clearing, in the middle-lower part of the photograph, shows a road cutting across the top part; there is a grouping of shadows just south of the road.  Those shadows could be buildings.  As a kid, in the 1980s, I remember going back into that area and seeing the remnants of a 1930s vehicle – part of a fender, a driver’s side window or maybe a windshield.  I also seem to remember there being what may have been a building foundation.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - September 11, 1948 (large version)
Second Sturgeon River Bridge – September 11, 1948 (large version)

Nine years later, the above photo was snapped.  The main things to note are the faint signs that the field, seen in the 1939 photograph, is now showing subtle signs of trees and shrubs beginning to grow; the field, if it was actually a field for crops, is likely no longer maintained.  The road back through that clearing also appears to not be well used.  The other fascinating thing to note is the bridge, or lack there of, over the river; it is being replaced.  There is a temporary bridge to the east of where the bridge had been located.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - April 20, 1953 (large version)
Second Sturgeon River Bridge – April 20, 1953 (large version)

It is difficult see much from this April 20, 1953 photo; the permanent bridge is in place and the temporary bridge is gone; there had been logging to the west of the field clearing since the previous photograph in 1948.  This photo is from the USGS’s collection of aerial photos from the Army Map Service.  Notice the ice on Perch, Side and Big Sturgeon lakes on the western edge of the photo.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - August 14, 1961 (large version)
Second Sturgeon River Bridge – August 14, 1961 (large version)

In 1961, more trees and taller trees can be seen in the clearing to the west of the bridge and river.  The evidence of logging occurred between 1948 and 1953 is fading.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - September 18, 1972 (large version)
Second Sturgeon River Bridge – September 18, 1972 (large version)

By 1972, evidence of the logged west of the field has all but disappeared; even the field, although clearly distinguishable, has significantly failed and is becoming overgrown.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - August 7, 1989 (large version)
Second Sturgeon River Bridge – August 7, 1989 (large version)

Significant logging is visible in this 1989 photo; logging to the east of the field first seen in the 1939 photo, as well as on the north side of the river.  The field is all but gone except for being able to see the corners, albeit heavily wooded, on the southern edge.  This is also the first photo taken after I had started to visit this area with my father and grandfather.  To the left of the parcel-corner-marker – just south of the bridge, is the road, seen in the 1939 photo, that cut across the top part of the open field.  I remember driving in on that road after this area had been cut.  The area had the look of devastation. It was a wide open area with scattered piles of slashings.

Kathleen Jokela, walking (July 2014)

And, the above photograph, is of my mother, Kathleen, walking westward on the road that cut through that field.  This about the area where the top or northern part of the opening, seen in the 1939 photo, would have been located.

More photos from this trip (and likely others, to this area), can be found here.

Update: September 2, 2014

Bureau of Land Management, Original Survey Map (large)

Above, is a digital version of the original Bureau of Land Management survey map.  If you follow the grid layout from the lower right corner, straight to the left (west), the first swiggle-line you cross is the Sturgeon River.  Follow the river up (north) to where crosses the area where four grid cells come together; directly to the left – roughly one square’s width – is where the open field would eventually be located.

Dempster Odyssey: Characters

Nearly twelve months ago, I was wrapping up CSci 5109 – Visualization at the University of Minnesota (where I am now a graduate student in Computer Science).

Mean while, my long time friend, Andy Baldwin, was wrapping up his life in Bozeman, MT; he was waiting out the Spring term for his girlfriend to wrap up her undergraduate career.  By the end of the summer, Andy and Jen would be in the Seattle area.

Very early on the morning of May 17, 2013, I headed out the front door of the house here in St. Paul, got into the Volkswagen, turned the engine on and drove west.  Sixteen hours later, as the sun was starting to drop behind the Rocky Mountains, I arrived in Bozeman, MT, at Andy’s apartment.  Andy and I were Yukon & arctic-circle bound, but leaving Montana would wait for one more night; I was tired; Andy was, however, jazzed about the trip.

Over the course of the trip, which would stretch on for nearly three weeks,  we  traveled through plains, mountains, inland-rain-forests, coastal boreal regions, and tundra.  We would see the sun never-really-set; some of the most beautiful “sunsets” I have ever seen.  We saw a crazy-assortment of North America’s large mammals; woodland bison, caribou, elk, whitetail deer, brown bears, grizzly bears, and black bears.  We even saw skeletons, at a museum in the Yukon, of North America’s largest-ever land mammals.

I also chronicled a large swath of the adventure on this very blog (here, here, here, and there are many others, apparently). Since the trip, like one would expect, life has gone on. Andy and his girlfriend have uprooted from Montana and now live near Seattle, WA.  In reminiscing, with Andy, recently, about the trip to the Yukon & the arctic circle, he kept bringing up one point: we met a lot of characters on the trip.  And, so, Andy came up with a rough list of characters and I filled in some of the details and these names are in no real order.

Aloof Border Crossing Guy

Crossing the Alberta/Montana border, the border patrol person (Canadian side) never actually looked at me.  He just watched a monitor which showed the output from a camera that was pointed at me.  It was surreal.  He also asked me no less than six times, if, “[we] had any guns? handguns, rifles any guns.  sometimes people forget about a handgun under the seat or a rifle behind the seat.”

“Nathan Lane”

This person was actually a woman.  Between lack of sleep on our part, the truck having just broken down, and we, ending up at Eagle Plains by way of hitchhiking, “Nathan Lane” was the name that popped into my head to best describe the woman who ran the outpost.  She was extremely nice, yet, very gruff.

Toothy Guy

Another character at Eagle Plains.  He was one of the cooks; nice, yet, a bit simple.  He also had some interesting teeth.  I was nice to him and in return, he told me his story about how he ended up at Eagle Plains.  He had been in Calgary, living with his sister.  She had told him that he either needed to get a job in Calgary or leave.  He somehow applied to an job placement agency that subsequently placed him with the Eagle Plains Hotel.  Over the course of the day twelve or fourteen hours we were stuck at the hotel, Nathan Lane, filling out paperwork, asked him several times whether he wanted to be employed full-time or just part time.  He decided to go with full-time and then tell us as such several times.  He also had a gap between his front teeth that would make Lauren Hutton proud.


I was waiting in the dining room of the Eagle Plains Hotel.  Picking a way at a very greasy breakfast that Toothy had cooked up for me.  Nathan Lane had given me the password to the WiFi, and so, I was updating Melissa (my wife) with the status of things.  Andy and I rode in different trucks and Andy was still back at the oil platform; he’d be up to Eagle Plains shortly.  Frenchy saw that I was kind of tired, so, he asked, “What’s bothering you, mon ami?”  He had a decidedly heavy French-Canadian accent.  I told him that our truck snapped an axel a few kilometers to the south.  He proceeded to say, “You think you have troubles, I have troubles:  woman troubles.”  (remember, when you read this, read it with a French accent).  He continued to tell about his “dead beat girlfriend” in Montreal who “stopped sending him money.”  In my head, I said to myself, “You mean, your ex-girlfriend, mon ami.

Potato Woman

Again, it was likely the lack of sleep, but this woman’s physical construction struck me as being similar to that of a potato with pipe-cleaners for limbs.  Like most of the people at the hotel, she was nice, unlike most of the people at the hotel, she did not talk at all to anyone besides herself.  She just sort of busily made the motions of a person doing things.  Attempting to clean, going to get cleaning supplies, semi-mumbling to herself all the while.  Shortly after Andy shot the video (below), she came back through – making the motions of vacuuming with the vacuum cleaner…except it wasn’t plugged in.

Elvis the Walrus and His Sidekick

“Elvis” and sidekick were Yukon Highway workers we ran into on the Dempster.  They were the two man crew that were going to grade the Dempster near Eagle Plains for the spring once the top layer of the road thawed.  These two individuals were obscene and vulgar beyond belief.  We never caught their real names, and we last saw them tearing south on Yukon Highway 2 – heading toward Whitehorse – going 100 mph in an F450 pickup truck.  It should also be noted that these two individuals were supposed to be the responsible parties for that section of the Dempster Highway.  The very section that we broken on.  The section of the road that was so rough, we sheered a ball joint on the truck and tore an axle.  If it was not for these fine individuals, Andy and I may very well have had a different trip and a different set of stories.

Jamie, the Truck Driver

Jamie was the water truck driver that I caught a ride with to Eagle Plains.  He was in his late 20s, chain smoked cigarettes and loved hip-hop.  He was from Inuvik, NT – a small hamlet near the Arctic Ocean, on the Mackenzie River delta.  Jamie was also Inuit; he also had two kids.  During the week, Jamie and the other water truck driver would make at least three trips each day with water from a river to the north of Eagle Plains to the two oil rigs that were south of Eagle Plains.  Jamie said he made a lot more money than most in Inuvik and that he stayed away from alcohol; added, “If you and your buddy wanna make a few [hundred] dollars, take a few bottles of vodka to Inuvik.”

Norm, Eagle Plains Tire & Service Shop owner

Norm was in his mid-50s, and like many others in rural Canada, he chain-smoked cigarettes.  He ran the tire & service shop at Eagle Plains.  His shop consisted of a couple garage stalls and small office.  He had a nudie calendar on the wall – it was a current calendar and also had his shop’s name on it.  Norm was also the person who lent us a truck to finish out the last few kilometers to the arctic circle.  He also told us stories about when the Dempster Highway was punched into the wildnerness in the 1970s.  He was on the road crew that built the Dempster; he just never left once the road was completed to Invuit.

Doug’s Towing: Doug Ukrainetz

Doug is by far the most memorable character of the trip.  We initially did not speak to him – Norm took care of calling him.  We would not see Doug for nearly ten or eleven hours.  I mostly slept or took advantage of Eagle Plains’ wifi; Andy slept or fretted about where the hell Doug was at.  Andy was hoping for flatbed tow truck – something with a cushy quad-cab.  Instead, Doug rolled into Eagle Plains with a rebuilt 1982-ish Chevy C50 – single cab, single axle and exhaust pipes cut off just at ear-height by the cab.  As Doug hooked up the Andy’s Chevy 2500HD, he mused out loud, “With this much weight at the ass end [of the tow truck], I bet the front will bounce like a mother fucker.”  That would not be the last time we heard the word fucker or a form of it from his mouth for the ten hour drive back to Dawson.  Doug burned through 40 gallons of gasoline on the trip up; when we asked if he was going to refill for the ride back, he said, “Norm’s got the market up here by the balls; fuck no.”

We learned a lot about Doug on the drive back.  He had been a logger in British Columbia for a number of years and then decided to head north, you know, “…to get away from the people.”  His girlfriend, while he was in B.C. was a hot number from California.  Toward the end of that conversation about his old flame, he bowed his head slightly and said, “God rest her soul.”  Head up, he turned to us and said, “Fuck all, she’s dead, you know, ahy?”  He had wandered into emotional territory and want to clear up that he was still tough.

Doug smoked more than his rebuilt C50 tow truck.  He talked about wanting to quit but he also admitted to being addicted to the things.  He got a kick out of me when I said, “Well, you know, each cigarette is your last cigarette.”  He smoked from the time was left Eagle Plains, until the time we arrived at the repair shop in Dawson.  Twenty packs of cigarettes.  He had nicotine and tar in his mustache on one side – where he exhaled the smoke through one nostril.

Doug also ran through his reasons for not trusting most ethnic groups; I tried to sleep; it was difficult in the bouncing, stiff-shocked truck.

We finally parted ways with Doug a day or two later – in Dawson.  The only ATM in town was broken, and Doug only took cash.  I joked that, “Cash makes it easy to not leave a trail.”  He quipped back, “I pay my fucking taxes, fuck all, ahy?”  With the machine fixed and we got our enormous stack of Canadian $20 bills (85 of them to be precise), we paid Doug his loot (as he called it), we shook hands, and Doug drove off in his early-1990s Ford Taurus.

When Andy and I got back to Montana, we dropped Doug and his girlfriend a letter with some pictures of the adventure up the Dempster.  We never heard back. Maybe I will drop him another letter soon.

Doug’s girlfriend Louise

We never actually saw Louise, but we talked with her a couple times on the phone.  Doug had described her to us while we drove back to Dawson.  A “short little number with curly black hair; she’s from Quebec.”  Doug joked about being too tired after the Dempster-run to “chase her around the house.”  Doug seemed very enamored with her; he talked at length about her, and what she did around the house.  Kept a flock of chickens; they had had pigs a couple summers back, too; she also maintained their garden and greenhouse.

Italian gold miner in Dawson

His name was Sandro.  We met him at the bank in Dawson.  He was hoping to get some cash, but, the cash machine was broken.  So, we bummed around the town with him for the morning.  He owned the mineral claim he was reconnoitering, but he was tossing around having a company from Italy do the heavy work of mining.  He motioned at one point in the general direction of the proposed mine, and said, “it’s out in the sticks a long way away.” He was an interesting fellow to hangout; he was educated, did not use the word fuck as a speech dysfluency, he did not use that word at all.

“Muktuk” – Drunk individual in Whitehorse

We rolled into Whitehorse at 10:00 pm, and pulled into the Best Western Gold Rush Inn.  Stepping out of the truck, we were immediately pestered by an intoxicated First Nations’ guy.  He mumbled to himself; Andy thought he was saying, “muktuk”.  That’s how we named him.  He asked us for money.  I told him we didn’t have any, and sorry.  “Just a dollar or a toonie, fuck, come on.”  He seemed to disappear into the shadows when an RCMP (“Mountie”) drove by the hotel.

Later that night, after Andy and I found the only place open in the town, a place called Boston Pizza, we headed back to the hotel where Muktuk was back, slightly drunker, and demanding larger sums of money.  “Come on, guys, I just five dollars, that’s it.  Maybe you got a light?  ”  I silently mouthed to Andy, “Wow, inflation?  It was a couple dollars last time.”

Beringia Museum Paleontologist/Archeologist 

The last major character to bring up is also one of the few highly educated individuals.  Andy had looked him up before we left Montana, and so, when we arrived at the Beringia Museum, Andy made a point of asking for him.  Sadly, I cannot recall him name.  He showed us around the museum, and we sort of parked ourselves with him between the skeleton of North America’s largest wooly mammoth and the skeleton of an extinct species of boar that once inhabited the Beringia region.  Andy and the scientist talked for at least an hour.  The topics ranged from his time at Penn State as a PhD candidate, to moving back to the Yukon, to his dissertation topic: caribou shit and miniature “glaciers”.  He pointed out the window of the museum at a hillside; “See that snow-pack in the shadows, it never really melts. I took core samples of those – they’re full of caribou shit – you can then analyze bits of their DNA, and get a profile of how they have changed over the years.”  He went on to say that you can find old arrow heads from First Nations hunters; the caribou will gather on this spots of snow in the summer which made them easier to hunt.

Finally, there were many other minor players in this adventure.  Like the highschool-aged waitress at Burnt Toast Café in Whitehorse; she seemed so bored with Whitehorse and could not fathom the idea of driving up the Dempster.  There was also the RCMP officer in Smithers, B.C., the college student working her summer job at Jade City, the resort owner at Fraser Lake, B.C. who kept apologizing for smelling of patchouli oil, the inept shopkeep at Dease Lake who wanted so hard to tell Americans what was exactly wrong with the United States.  For over an hour, we listened and chatted with her; her trinket shop smelled heavily of mothballs and mildew.

The last set of characters to make note of are the five people from Temptations Bakery in Stewart, B.C.  Hilarious, vulgar, and obscenely Canadian.


An Old Journal

June 11, 1989Conversations with my mother, as of late, tend to wander to years past.  Often, those talks about years of past involve Clarice.  Clarice is my grandmother – my mother’s mother – will be turning ninety this year, and as it sometimes happens as one ages, memory is not what it used to be.

Clarice is a very small woman and has gotten smaller as she has progressed through her 80s.  Even though she is a small woman, she holds a very large place in the memories of my childhood.

While visiting my parents several weeks ago, I asked my mother if she knew of the location of some small journals Clarice had written when I six or seven.

These were not personal journals instead, these were journals that, within a small square or two of paper, chronicled the hunting and fishing outings that I had gone on with both Clarice and my grandfather.  My mother vaguely remembered these journals, but, she would ask Clarice if she knew of where one of them might located.

Last weekend, I was in Hibbing.  Again, the conversation with my mother drifted to remember when; the topic of journals came up.  My mother had asked Clarice about the journals, and she remembered them, but not very well.

June 11, 1989With a bit of searching, my mother and I found one of the notebooks.  The first entry in this particular notebook was from June 11, 1989.  I would have been eight years old.  Reading through this first entry, I remember parts of it.  The tent caterpillars (colloquially, we referred to them as army worms), and the cat fish.  The cat fish was one of the many creatures that happened to be eventually housed [ever briefly] in a small, grey enamel wash tub; I think the tub is still at my parent’s house under the basement laundry sink.  The catfish and the turtles that happened to find their way through the grey tub were all released into a local lake on the outskirts of Hibbing.

But, the things that amaze me about the journal entries are more transient; locations and the time it takes to reach these locations in comparison to what I know now as a thirty-something year old person.  The locations my grandmother penned in the journals fill in a bit of the location-less-ness of those memories I forged as an eight year old.

The notes on where we went on this particular afternoon excursion; places like Zim, the St. Louis River, and Lavell Road; I know now, and have known since I began driving.  It takes roughly 25 minutes to drive to Zim.  But, to an eight year old, “Zim,” “St. Louis River,” “Lavell,” these were just words.  They lacked the context of place and distance.

Lavell Road, Zim, MNMy thinking was that I was traveling to someplace that took some time to get there.  This may be where my fascination for and joy of getting there came from; just riding with my grandparents without much of a hurry.  It was an adventure, albeit, an afternoon adventure that took us on an at most sixty mile round trip adventure.  But, in my head, these adventures were to far off lands where we would see creatures that did not reside in my immediate backyard; like deer, ruffed grouse (partridge), woodchucks, catfish and sometimes we saw snapping turtles, ducks and geese.

At the end of the day, I would be tired.  I do not even recall how I ended up back home; whether I was dropped off by my grandfather or if my mother drove the few blocks to pick me up.  I also do not recall the total number of these outings.  This particular journal that I found contains about six outings over threes year (June 1989 thru September 1992); but I like to think these were a regular occurrence happening throughout my childhood.