A Hole in the World: Lonesome Crowded Lake Country

Of course this banishment from a steady economy comes with dark consequences. Drugs and alcohol fuel the Northwoods daily atmosphere.

There are places in Northern Minnesota that are lost in a dimension and time of their own.

You can only find them off the freeways, miles down some serpentine county road. They have names reminiscent of a spirit of the land that some believe is extinct. Some say it has been snuffed out. If it is true, then the names are merely reminders of a soul and not supplementary to its remains. They fan no embers but creates memorials to a flame.

These places are resort towns now. The logging industry has been thwarted by public disinterest and nosy governmental regulation and the small farms are mostly gone. But if they thrive anywhere in North Country they thrive in the rich soils east of the Red River, from the very edge of the Minnesota’s westward swing of the Laurentian deep into the heartland of the state, where there you can still notice the machine life breath of an economy in the air, riding on the wind.

The geographical center of Minnesota is located on Big Island in Fishtrap Lake, in the Lincoln Lakes area. This island is owned by a millionaire, who you can find sitting on a modest dock that juts from massive white pine and exotic cedars not typically found in that region. He’s laconic. He’ll wave to you as you kayak by. His cabin is as modest as his dock and were you to pass the island on a speedboat you may very well miss it. Just the way he likes it, I’m sure.

But when you move North you enter the regions propped tremendously through the years by heavy industry. The industries are gone now, and after nightfall, you can feel it. A ghostly feeling. As if a great experiment were tried, and what stands there now is the failed attempts.

Recreation drives these economies now. Resort towns where old boom towns used to reside. The impact of recreation on the local economies boggles the mind. The town of Park Rapids fluctuates in population alone so much through the seasons that it seems to be two different communities altogether from the summer to the winter months. From around 3,000 in the winter to somewhere close to 50,000 during the summer, according to locals there.

Of course this banishment from a steady economy comes with dark consequences. Drugs and alcohol fuel the Northwood’s daily atmosphere. Minnesota’s Forest Area is held hostage by alcohol, as are most towns in their position. Locals become perpetual tourists, trapped in the party atmosphere their town has to create in order to make money. In the summer there is no time.

The nights become muggy eternities, dreamy twilights that last forever. A retirement of the soul. The peace and tranquility that the Northwoods brings are only half of it; don’t let them fool you. But a chosen few really understand the land that gives them their lives of decadence. Others swim in a psychological funnel of nostalgia and drunkenness. Opiates run rampant in these communities, and until very recently they have not really been discussed. Fueled by intoxication, an already intoxicating landscape can become perilous to the soul.

You’ll find the lakeland-lifers at the resort bars every night. A different one but in the same town each day of the week. They stumble out the bar when they leave, after listening to the folks singers passing through, stuck in their own perpetual intoxication. A twilight zone, if you’re not careful.

The land is what snaps me out of it. If I remain in that bubble of decadence and blissful loneliness too long without a reminder of what it was supposed to be about, I become that stranger in a strange land that so many of us crave to be. To know the weird freedom and entrapment of waking up in a resort hotel and watching the wealthy come to and fro with their fishing rigs and grinning children and watching the local fisherman drink in silence, all over a cup of cheap coffee and a four-star breakfast. To know what it is to step out the door for a cigarette and smell the tourism and the lake breeze  and the inexplicable lostness.

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

-Hotel California, written and performed by the Eagles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhere booms come and go like tumbleweed.

America, and the Android Future: Imagining a Hybrid Nation

 

I grew up in a place called America. As a child I was often confused as to where or what America actually was, because on the map there is clearly a North America and a South America, but no America. There is a Central America, but it is not where I live. So how I lived in the miraculous place called America, when it did not seem to exist, I could not fathom. Now that I am grown nothing is any clearer. There are we the Americans, and there is The World. My globe is here, soaked in the red blood of the corn fields and the white bones of the plantations and the blue sky where drones scour foreign mountain ranges for evidence of terror activity. The water that comes out my tap tastes like hard work and blue collar sweat. Broad swaths of potato fields remind me of the magic of an order of small fries.
Somehow in the air America drifts. It is not any one of the fifty states, no, but it is an ether that is carried in jet streams throughout the land, replenishing its many components. I cannot help but see this place America as a trinitarian being-metaphysically it follows the same kind of blueprints as Jesus Christ. It remains fifty independent states, though it is also the United States, and finally it is America, which is a non-physical concept we all intrinsically understand but cannot really put into words. Christians feel this when they step out of church on Sunday and order a quick Starbucks on the way out the door, or hit up Hardees for some cheeseburgers to top off the Body of Christ.
But America is bitter sweet and we know it. On certain evenings it feels like something uniquely folky, something risen from a tameless wilderness and constructed in rebellion. The rebellion of a culture that we used to see as petulant and silly, if we’re honest. America is ranch hands and deer hunting and guns and Native American genocide and black slavery and loons and grizzly bears and the Bald Eagle. America is rugged. We have committed every sin so we know the tricks. We instinctively mistrust rich blood.
And yet we are the very bastion of capitalism in the west, a burden we don’t yet know how to carry. A title we were never sure how to carry. What did the cowboy ever want to do aside from ride off into the sunset with his sweet loving lady? What’s he supposed to do with nuclear arms races and with global trade activity and international espionage? He’s not cut out for this world.
We are approaching a world of global automation. Capitalism has gave way to such extraordinary heights of luxury that we are inevitably on the path to transferring huge amounts of our daily labor to machines that will do our work for free. There will still be jobs to be had with these machines, but they will be highly specialized tasks carried out by specialized workers. So the question is arising in our culture now- how do we keep capitalism creating prosperity for humans when machines do capitalism better than we do?
I find the poetic justice to be too sweet.

 

History is actually just the story of people who think like machines killing people who don’t think like machines, with machines. Ask any nation’s indigenous tribes and they will spin for you an accurate yarn. Today’s systems are more efficient than ever before: communism, capitalism, or any hybrid of the two, are machine systems. They take the spirit of the human person and place it within a clearly defined set of directives. The existence of all subjects are reduced to the will of the system, of the government, or the economy. On many levels these systems mirror the workings of a machine, made to carry out a single task and to just keep doing that thing forever. Capitalism has found a way to create growth at staggering rates despite the ecological ramifications and it does not know how to do anything else. It is built for one thing only: profit and growth and prosperity for those who adopt it. It does this with a ruthless efficiency. Communism was never able to achieve levels of economic luxury, but it did find highly exploitable methods of controlling populations and rendering them loyal to fanatic regimes.
In this new world we are entering, communism and capitalism will both be utilized under single entities. China and its bulldog Hong Kong have already demonstrated clearly how devastatingly efficient this hybridization is. Even Marx admitted that communism could only be completed with the help of the capitalists. Luxury communism rests on the fruits of capitalism.
And so capitalism, in order to remain efficient, must adopt its nemesis in order to remain relevant in the world that it created. It’s Shakespearean. After all this time, a piece of that holy American trinity is ready to be dethroned: America, the metaphysical spirit of our rugged and often violent roots. It will be forgotten. The spirit, though filled with scandal and turmoil, was a precious one. It was rooted to the earth, albeit a bloodstained one. Without it we will be mere actors. Or more correctly, machines.

Dream Shepherd

Under night.
Night touches the dark tracks
of pine
rooting in the between-worlds,
there rouses spirits
once called tricksters
once called teachers.

Now they only frighten us,
so we tell stories
of how they might condemn us.

I hear the whip-or-will.
It sings from the first moment
of utter dark
to the first moment
of pregnant light.
My tracks are soundless
and take flight
in the dusky shadows
as doves
or peregrines,
birds that may take my
step to dream heights.

The night world and the world
of dream
are not separated,
but are like two silver paths
who meet in a center
at a crossroads.

Dreams
are made
from the breathing void
and they fly on the wings of bats
into our dozing heads.
There are shepherds, who in that world
guide their dream flock

to crossroads
that see no false light
that do not bare the stamp of man
we find the places of soul offering
portals we cannot cross.
My soul is a portal tonight
that all may cross.

A shepherd,
staff in hand,
points the way over sleep-green knolls
into vernal waters where
he knows nightmares are to be fished.
The flock posesses a unity
swims through the dark river
of nothing
their bevy dancing through ether
colored like flashing coins of deja-vu.

Everything lives under the moon now.

Tonight my soul is open.
I cannot hold a grudge
when power is glistening
in every blade of sedge grass
every trembling bulrush.
Tonight, on the waters
glowbugs haunt
and the ghosts gawk at the beauty,
taking small souls in jars.
Tonight my soul is open.
I do not fear the dark
but am wary at the sound
of footsteps approach

Deer Hunting

Are you on fire in whales skin?
Sparkling, are you spitting?
My love is gone from the skin I’m in
rattling round, making viscous din
the object of my wandering down
to the creek where it was that I first found
something to hold in my eyes and both
a stalk of corn, clouds to roast
despite the risk it entails I’ll propose
we commit ourselves to the task at hand
of handing over our baggage, we land
and I meet you there with open arms
you were there for me when may come harm
snakes don’t scare me, but paranoias deep
I look over shoulders, most nights I can’t sleep
and if I never read the horoscope
horsetail would still fall in hexagon scope
and the mystic would laugh and tell me a lie
and watch me with his wide third eye
so I’ll take you with me to fire a gun
into the flesh of an earthen prize
that causes the flesh to prickle, rise
and that is why I will not lie
most of the time
that is why I will not lie
most of the time

First Monday in Boreal Time

Time sings in the forest
places have their songs
linear melodies break down
a cadence solders
but the melody might as well be
water
or sky
what it sounds like where they meet
I come to crossroads
crossing streams
horizon rushing on toward
aurora
boreal time signatures
are like wings on falcons
time dives and reaches
cloud-sewn peaks
nothing and then
hours, disappearing days,
arriving nights;
those moonsun temples
you cannot stay in one song
long.
Everything has a song
and we are the cherubim,
and we lament so that
evil sounds beautiful
by its beauty it is conquered.
From dark bogs
static spirits flash in peripherals
eyes detect the spirit but
concrete minds shut out
a million shades of one note
leave the angels suspended
the spirits half cocked.

Blood Fortunes

“Blood Fortune”

 

just one prayer:

take my brittle bones

scattered in jack pines.

do you know this kind of isolation

can you speak a name into the wind and have it be

or hash out the workings of your fortune

for the fortune is of your blood?

my blood is black and oily, and it does not know

gold

 

just one prayer: hoist me above the world, so that

looking down, I can see the looks of their faces

and catch their floating candles. hear my

delirious eulogy, probably pregnant with

lies

 

wrong turns brought me here. she tells me

discreetly, senses my weakness. over gaunt cups

of burnt coffee, her face is very serious

talk about

things in your soul that conspire to kill you

to end your life with brittle and ancient

precision

sounds of a bolt action, the steel parts falling into place

firing pin cradling its love, ignitions.

suicide dreams on beautiful black afternoons

where I can comprehend the terrible in ways that

only invalids and crazies

imagine

 

in the end most of our lives

come down

to the things we tried to buck early on

and if you aren’t shoved into the pits

when it counts,

then it’s exactly like swimming

against a thousandfold currents.

there are fine membranes in sanity

cut too close and you may tear

the savory tissue, the razor thin

tallow lining; and then cannibals will

devour the spoils

 

just one prayer:

bring me to the womb of the earth

I can’t remember anything but her anymore

my life looks like the bald and scorched prairie

they say, “you’re young”

I say, “I’m dead, when will I die”

“don’t talk like that”

“don’t talk at all,” is my reply

The Sleepless Crow Wing

In the heart of a broad track of hardwood forest, on a bend of the great Crow Wing just north of Motley, I made a campfire. The night was bluish, foggy. The sliver of moon barely eking through the inert gush of moisture. A sigh recoiling across the pale.

The fire I made of scrub oak and jack pine. You get the fire going with dry oak leaves and jack pine kindling. Then you lay on your jack pine logs, and that will usually go up like a roman candle. Jack pine burns fast and hot. After that you get her good and coaled up you can throw on a slab of scrub oak or two. If the coals are hot enough, the oak will take quickly too. If I wasn’t concentrating on writing, and thinking more about the quality of this fire, I would have gone down for some driftwood elm at the river’s edge. But I won’t. Tonight, mostly jack pine will have to do.

A gaggle of turkeys are skirting the edge of the forest around me. They come from the north, from a young spruce grove, and then follow the river bottom west. There are fingers of islands on the north side of the river, the bank that I am camped on, and it’s this side they seem to enjoy. Perhaps it’s the acorns. The fertile, insect-filled soil. I don’t know much about turkeys except that they are silly birds. Of course wise in their own strange way- their sheer numbers and adaptability to new environments can prove that. But if you hang with the turkeys long, you get the sense they are perpetually shitfaced.

Ten years ago it was a rare sight to see a turkey on this river bottom. In fact, for the first half of my life, I don’t remember hearing a word of the bird in the jack pine forests of Central Minnesota. Now it is a common sight to see meandering packs crossing highways almost anywhere in the state. The gaggle that has been waddling through this river bottom is at least forty birds strong. I counted on afternoon with a friend. You see, turkeys are not sneaky birds, and nor are they hard to sneak upon. There are hunters who will deny this fact. They will tell you that it’s simply not true, that the turkey is a cunning and illusive animal.  The truth is that the turkey is a bumbling bird, a clumsy bird, and a daydreamer. I have observed these traits in the turkey for years now.

My neighbor pack is ruled by one enormous Tom. The bastard wanders with his huge plumage unraveled, his glorious red gobbler wobbling, his neck erect and his eyes furious. In this way he walks about his tribe of luscious turkey vixens, his forty-some feathered geishas that he apparently gets free pick of whenever he chooses. And what does he give in returns? It must be protection.

The human male cannot imagine the life of a male turkey.

The fire burns low quickly. Stirring only patches the gaps. Fixing requires work. More oak to make the night. Superheat the coals before I fall asleep.

I don’t usually use a tent when I camp. Unless it’s going to rain, I don’t see the point. The chances of being eaten by an animal are about as good as being struck by lightning, or less. The weather in Central Minnesota in the spring is fairly predictable (there are always vicious exceptions to every rule in Minnesota). But just to be certain of my safety, I will often bring my trusty old shotgun for protection. It’s an ancient bolt action, but she’s as reliable as any gun ever made and she bucks like a damn mule and sounds like a formidable cannon. Any sane living thing would stand down at the sound of a simple charge of seven-and-a-half shot into the leaves. But bears can be sick.

More to the point, some people can be sick.

Coyotes purl through the willows and the elm at the other bank. They yowl and yammer through the night, from the first hints of sundown to the first hints of sunrise. There are nights when the band on the south bank will begin the eerie chorus, and suddenly there are yammers to the north of me. Like happy ghosts. Pranksters in truth. It does not take long to hear the bizarre humor in their songs. The way they do not fear the darkness and somehow rejoice in their own chaos, in the chaos of the river and the Crow Wing’s long and winding course.

Before I fall asleep, I often hear the echoes of a train whistle, and a barn owl in the oak above my head will answer it. As if the whistle is somehow a question posed by machine, a question asked to a machine in its lonesome transit and the owl whispers the reply onto the drifting wind but that whistle is too loud, and no machine will ever hear the answer over its own racket. It will disappear into the night and go drifting on the southern rim of the Crow Wing. Asking forever, wailing, splitting the soft abyss of the night. The river, on the other hand, is loud and boisterous on most nights. Woodpeckers get restless against the trunks of rotten oaks, gangs of coyotes taunt each other most nights from across the river, turkeys wander like drunkards through the dry leaves, otters splash and play in the shallow pools, and somewhere a wild cat screams bloody murder and stalks the darkness. I never feel quite isolated here. It’s a busy neighborhood, to be honest, and like New York, it never seems to sleep.