Pine Trees and Sand, MN and NY. Oh, and an America in Trouble
A collage essay; An essay in several parts
We took a trip up to Duluth this past weekend and stayed with Jonathon’s mother for a few days. Mid-June in Duluth is full excitement because the nationally known Grandma’s Marathon is happening. This year, instead of running Grandma’s Marathon, Jonathon covered it for a local running publication, and we wanted to spend some quality time with family. Jon grew up there and so we try to visit as much as possible. And Duluth is just so damn beautiful in mid-June which is when the flowering spring arrives. Crab apple blossoms and lilacs and daffodils and tulips. Lovely. I get to experience spring in May and then again in June.
His mother lives out on a little spit of land—there are millionaire mansions but also little old beach cottages that were haphazardly built in a nestled sort of fashion. Yes, houses line the road like any typical American street, but there are plenty of houses that are set at diagonals, in the midst of trees and sand dunes. She’s close to Lake Superior and there are pine trees and sand and, combined with the flowers that are blooming, it smells divine.
I woke up to life in upstate New York; my first memories are from when I was two-years-old. We lived in the Adirondack Mountains—Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. The Adirondacks are known for being a get-away for New Yorkers. There are plenty of resorts; there’s great skiing and hiking and swimming but I just knew it as home, my home that was very, very, very cold. It snowed once on the Fourth of July. When we went swimming in the lakes, my mother made us get out every 10 minutes or when our lips turned blue, whichever came first. My memories are flashes, and they are mostly sensory. I started life in a cold climate, in the mountains, near lakes, with the smell of snow and pine trees and sand and, when it finally warmed up, flowers.
I’ve just started paying more attention to the January 6th committee meetings. At first, I couldn’t bring myself to dive in. Like so many of you, the past couple of years— with the constant bad news and doom scrolling—have wrecked havoc on my psyche.
Early last year, I mostly stopped posting political memes to my IG and FB, afraid that I was accidentally re-posting something that came from a troll farm intent on further dividing our country. As the year progressed, I tried to keep up with the news, but I also needed to take a break. I had a baby, I had to figure out how to feed him, how to be a mother, how to navigate life still in a pandemic. There were other big family things going on. But a recent newsletter, entitled “Can the hearings overcome American indifference?” from The Atlantic caught my attention. In it, Tom Nichols, says:
“But I wonder if the committee is going to overcome the stubborn denialism of millions of my fellow citizens and the stupefying indifference of millions more.
Americans are being faced with the undeniable evidence that senior members of the United States government either plotted or abetted a coup. They have been told that the military chain of command was in chaos for hours. This is far beyond Watergate or Iran-Contra; this is an attack on more than two centuries of constitutional government.
And the news cycle? We’re already over it. Gas is now averaging $5 a gallon. Inflation is at a 40-year high…These are big stories, but within the range of “normal” big stories. I’m 61; I have lived through gas rationing and high inflation and market crashes, but I have never lived through wondering if the constitutional order of the United States will exist in two years.”
When we left the cities, it was 92 degrees; when we arrived in Duluth, it was 45 degrees. It isn’t difficult to note the similarities between upstate MN and upstate NY. We added layers and jackets and winter hats. We put socks on our baby’s hands.
On one of our evenings in Duluth, Jonathon’s mother hosted a grill-out with his two sisters and their families. We gathered on her back deck, surrounded by lilac bushes and towering pine trees. Our baby sat in a high chair for the first time and we offered him some sweet potatoes. He made sweet little faces and his cousins and aunties and uncles cooed. Later, Jonathon and I talked about how we were struck by his family’s seamless integration, how they see each other almost every day, how there isn’t a formal invitation to dinner—there’s just a constant flow of being together and helping each other.
Since starting this newsletter, I’ve been thinking about what my own new American dream is. To be honest, I feel as though I’ve spent most of my life just trying to survive. To make it through my degree programs, to pay off debt, to build a solid career, to have a decent savings. To try and figure out how to have—and pay for— children when the fun way wasn’t working. But I know a long-ago dream consisted of being a part of big family, and I was lucky enough to marry into one that has completely accepted me.
I dream of moving to Duluth, so much like the Adirondacks of my childhood. When we arrive, when we crest that final hill on I35 and the lake and the city sprawls out before us, I feel something loosen in me, a whoosh, a sigh that says, I’m home.
But there were other dreams and I’m living them now—a house in a walkable neighborhood with green space and coffee and flower shops. A dream job. Being close to my sister and her family. A good marriage and a beautiful baby. Some of those things I could take with me to Duluth; many I could not.
Currently I’m reading When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill. Essentially, it’s a speculative novel about enraged women transforming into dragons. Much of the story centers on the Mass Dragoning of 1955 in which, on one day, over 650,000 women turned into dragons. The story is also about burying the truth. The entire U.S. works to pretend that this doesn’t happen, that women just up and leave, even though the evidence is right in front of them. As I’m reading, I’m also consistently thinking about the January 6th insurrection, how we’ve all moved on even though, for real-for real, our democracy is at stake. One thing to love about America is that voting has mattered, that because we are a democratic nation, we recognize that power needs to be mediated and limited. That the president hands off his role peacefully. This did not happen last year. As Nichols in The Atlantic newsletter said, so many are in denial and so many more just don’t care. We don’t have the energy or the attention span.
The truth is, I’m afraid we are headed towards another T mp presidency. It’s a tough time to be making life in America right now. And what happens then? If T mp had succeeded in overturning the election he’d officially be a dictator; I mean he full on acted like one! He tried to keep control of the U.S. by force! What will a second go-around look like? Will those who voted against him actually be safe? The January 6th committee is trying to lay the groundwork for criminal activity. But more than that, it needs to show that we still are a democracy, that an American dream still exists, and is still possible. That sometimes we dream just to dream but sometimes we want those dreams to come true.
Duluth is just a few hours away, close enough for monthly weekend trips. For now, maybe forever, I’ll dream just to dream of living there; I have enough pine needles, sand, blossoms, mountains, lakes, and yes, even snow in my spirit to keep me buoyed, to keep me wide-eyed and in love with my life in America. Fighting against minority rule feels futile and yet I must pay attention.