Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Racism in Small Town Minnesota

This was written on October 26th, obviously before the elections, but everything is still pertinent.

I just read an "Advertisement" in the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper today, dated Wednesday, October 25, 2006. I'm so pissed off that I can't even write the multitudes of essays that need to be written, until I get this off my chest. I'm so pissed I can't even see straight, and that's pretty bad considering how much crap I put up with until I get pissed off. It takes a lot.

The point of the advertisement is racial hate stirring up communities for political means. Everyone knows the Republican party is in control, and it's no secret that they've had their hands caught in the cookie jar more than once. So they have to get people stirred up to take the heat off them, and they (the Republican party) does this the only way they know how - mud slinging. Listen to the news and the radio. And I mean REALLY listen. Repubs do it all the time to cover up their misdeeds. When the Dems take a stab at it, you hear the Repubs condemn the Dems until hell freezes over. The incident could be 8-10 years old, but the Dems still get blamed and spat upon. Now what happens when the Repubs do it? Nothing. Why? Because that would be uncivilized! How dare you throw stones!

Getting back to the advertisement. This all started this past spring when Red Lake reopened to walleye fishing. A few greedy people decided that the Indians shouldn't have access to all that good walleye, while the non-native people are limited to the portions of Upper Red Lake that belong to the state. Damn indians shouldn't be able to feed their families all the fish they want! And while we're at it, why should they have access to all that great hunting land anytime they want? That's just not right. Let them fend for themselves, like everyone else. And why should the state pay a dime to them or their schools? Let them stay ignorant. What about all that money they got for the "self-imposed terrorism." That's not right either. But it's okay for the indians to die for us while serving in the military. That's not right.

Now let's go to Bemidji. We have to go to there for supplies, and other services unavailable on the reservation. Non-natives yell epithets at couples of mixed races, sales people turn their backs and refuse to help, and cashiers stare numbly ahead without so much as a word. Wait a minute - what year is this? 1886? Or 2006? They'll take the indians money, but clearly want nothing to do with them. My husband (a native)and I sit down at a nice restaurant. We are ignored until I, a non-native, complain to the management. Our orders are taken without comment, and our plates thrown on the table without even a follow-up "How is everything?"

If these scenarios were played out with Black people being discriminated against, the ACLU and every other black politician and Oprah would be screaming bloody murder. We aren't discriminated against in any other part of the country. That's just not right.

So why is the public so tolerant of stripping Native Americans of their heritage, their dignity, beliefs (not everyone believes in christianity), their homes, and their land? Is it going to take an uprising for people to see this is so very wrong??? Hitler was condemned for killing millions of Jews (and rightly so). Nobody thinks anything of the U. S. government killing millions of Native Americans for their land. Different circumstances? No.

Oh yes, I've heard the comments - that was hundreds of years ago, get over it. Okay, no problem. Just as soon as the current residents start treating the Native people with the same respect they give one another.

Cultural diversity? Don't get me started. The only cultural diversity in this area are a few token mentions of NA contributions, and an Indian Studies program. When is Native American History month? Do they get a parade and speakers like other races do? Or does one have to be of Scandanavian origin to get a little respect around here?

I'm not Native American. I'm of English, Scottish, and French Canadian descent. I'm almost positive my ancestors cheated someone out of their land, and for that I apologize. However, where I come from it is considered very desirable to be Indian (or what the politically correct call Native American). On the school yards you hear kids bragging about how much Indian blood they have, and in adult circles, one is treated with the utmost respect and admiration when someone is of Indian blood.

So to those of you who resort to rabble rousing to get votes, get your priorities straight. We need to be helping one another, instead of trying to get something that the Supreme Court has decided doesn't belong to you!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


This summer I attended a writers' workshop for wounded veterans in Belfast, Maine. This dramatic monologue was performed onstage by Meg Beach-Hacking at the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped.

(boastful) As a child, I co-starred with Cary Grant, John Wayne, and Tony Curtis every Sunday afternoon. Sometimes I was a nurse, tenderly caressing his brow with cool water, other times we laid on the beach in the moonlight, gazing into one another’s eyes professing undying love….

(excited) Exploring the remains of World War II forts, I pretended I was a lookout in the watchtower, machine gun ready, carefully scanning the horizon for any sign of Nazi submarines. Then, accepting command of a torpedo patrol craft, I’d stand side-by-side Lt John F. Kennedy – together, chasing enemy gunboats to help win the war.

Like a moth to a flame I was drawn to the military. When I was 18, I joined the Navy – not just any Navy, but Cary Grant, John Wayne and Lt Kennedy’s Navy. I wanted to join their Navy, I wanted to fight their fight.

(fiercely) In 1979, women in the military had to be tough. I had to work twice as hard to be considered just as good. I didn’t ask for any special considerations. I only wanted to perform my duties to the best of my ability. But sometimes that’s just not enough.

The politicians wanted women to join the Navy to fill administrative, medical, and other non-technical positions allowing more men to go to sea. In reality, the women occupying jobs onshore required the men to spend more time at sea, creating animosity.

(insulted) We were frequently the butt of jokes. Every so often my supervisor would instruct me to install a transmitter in an aircraft parked in the hanger. I grabbed a toolbox, hoisted the 40-lb transmitter to my shoulder, and set out to prove how tough I was. I looked in one hanger after another, but could not find the aircraft. The heavy equipment became an intolerable burden, but I refused to give up. I returned to the work center to verify the side number of the aircraft. When I opened the door, everyone began laughing, and I realized I’d been had.

“Newbie” jokes aside, I was very disappointed. Where was the camaraderie that Patricia Neal and John Wayne shared in the movie, “In Harm’s Way?”
Once, my daughter ran a high fever and needed to see a doctor. My supervisor asked, (sarcastic) “Was your kid issued in your sea bag?” (irritated) “No,” I replied. “Well do it on your own time,” he snapped. A man asking for time off to take his child to the doctor is interpreted as caring for his family. But a woman in the same situation is called a “no-load,” a “slacker,” requiring someone else to pull her share of the work while she is away from the job.

(fiercely) Well I’m not a man. And I’m not a slacker or no-load, either. I am a mother who cares for the health and welfare of her children. I am also a sailor who takes her job – no, her career – seriously. I missed first words, first steps, and trick-or-treating. I sacrificed tender moments with my children to defend my country. I was on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In 2003, (proudly) I completed over 20 years of honorable service. Because of the sacrifices my family and I made, and those made by other trailblazers like me, when my daughter, Army Specialist Carrie L. Wilson, has children, she won’t have to choose between supporting her family, and having a career.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Like most people, there have been times in my life where it seems like a black cloud is hovering over my head; everything goes wrong - the car breaks down, the phone bill comes in at a record $241, my job is discontinued because of budget cuts, and the price of gasoline is astronomical. But in my case, when the black cloud appears it can stick around for years at a time.

The first black cloud appeared when I was 16 years old. My parents had divorced, and I had lost my Grandnannie – my great-grandmother – and the only person who (I felt) really cared about me. I was an angry teenager, withdrawn, and lashed out at anyone who tried to become close to me. I was an uncontrollable wildcat, so my mother kicked me out of the house and into the world. I was about to taste reality firsthand.

I bought my first car, a 1968 Dodge Coronet, and moved into an efficiency apartment. Independent living was great and I enjoyed every minute; I was finally on my own, but I lost an opportunity to go to college because of my negative behavior. I had been accepted at Burdett School in Boston, and now had no way to pay the tuition. I was working in a pizza joint downtown, but the escalating energy crisis made the cost of living and driving to work very expensive. Determined to make it on my own, I found a second job as a legal secretary. The money flow was running smoothly once again, but the practice in problem solving would not prepare me enough for future events.

Two years later the black cloud returned with a vengeance. I was laid off from my job as a legal secretary. Jobs were scarce for an untrained teenager, and I resorted to traveling with a carnival working the midway. It was my job to lure “marks” to my balloon game, and convince them to spend as much money as possible; a little cloth bear was all they had to show for their efforts. Life as a “carnie” was not very profitable for me, and eventually I was fired for giving away too many prizes. I hitchhiked along the East Coast, never knowing where my next meal would come from or if I was going to have a place to sleep. It was risky behavior but I didn’t care. I had a knife and would use it if needed. One day a van full of hippies stopped and asked if I wanted to go with them to St Augustine, Florida. Eager for a new adventure I climbed into the van. Little red flags of alarm were going off inside my head, but I hadn’t yet learned to listen to my instincts. I would soon regret my decision.

Several hours passed, and I fell asleep. When I awoke, my knife, cash, and jewelry had been stolen. Searching the van for my belongings, I noticed that my new acquaintances had left, and I was alone with the driver. As I studied his appearance, an uneasy shiver ran down my spine.
The middle-aged man had long, thin, scraggly blonde hair, and was tattooed over most of his upper body. Staring out the window, I quietly pondered my situation as the big cities turned into small towns. I was hopelessly lost – desperate to get away – but I didn’t know how without alarming the driver. “He’s got to stop for gas sometime,” I thought.

As I watched the scenery change from small villages to dense forests, the van stopped in front of a run-down cabin. “Why are we stopping?” I asked. The man stared at me for a moment before replying, “This is my uncle’s place. I gotta get some money.” We got out of the van and approached the cabin. He tried the door, but it was locked. I suddenly realized that this was a bad situation, and was about to get worse.

The man noticed my panic, and pulled a gun out of his pants. He pointed the gun at me and growled in a menacing voice, “Don’t get no idea of runnin’. You ain’t goin’ no where!” He grabbed my arms and tied me to a tall oak growing in the yard. I was terrified. As the scraggly-haired man looked for something to force the door open, I pleaded with him to let me go, but he would not budge. Again, I struck up a conversation with the man hoping to lure him into a false sense of security.
After what seemed like an eternity we reached a compromise; I would stay with him for the summer, and then take a bus home to Maine. That seemed to calm the scraggly-haired man and I quickly plotted my next move. “Why don’t we go into town and find out how much it is going to cost?” I suggested. He pondered this for a moment before replying, “Okay. I wanna go see my Ma anyway.” During the long ride into town my little voice – my intuition – told me that if I don’t get out of that van I would never see my family again.

On arriving at the bus station, I ran inside and asked the clerk for a one-way ticket to Maine. I didn’t have any money for the ticket so I used the payphone to call my mother. I explained the situation to her, and she agreed to wire the money to me. After a while, the scraggly-haired man was beginning to get suspicious, and came inside to see what was taking so long. When he saw me on the phone, he started to get anxious. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go see my Ma.” I quickly glanced at the clerk with pleading eyes, and told the scraggly man I wasn’t going anywhere. “Is there a problem here?” the clerk asked. “No,” the man growled. Turning again to me the man said, “Come on! I’ll bring you right back!” This time the little voice inside me screamed “Don’t go with him or you will never make it back alive!” “No,” I said and quickly sat down in a chair, my white knuckles gripping the sides. The man angrily turned on his heel, and walked away. Once the van was out of sight I breathed a great sigh of relief, but kept a watchful eye on the door.

Three hours later the bus pulled in. Before leaving the security of the bus terminal, I glanced over my shoulder to be sure I wasn’t being watched. Satisfied there weren’t any black clouds lurking by, I gratefully boarded the bus, and rode off into unchartered territory.


On a shelf encased in a well-preserved leather shroud is a Brownie camera. The fitting on the clasp is broken, and does not latch. The long thin carrying strap is just the right width to be comfortable, but not too thin or flimsy that it will slip off while shifting packages from one hand to the other. The camera, a relic of days gone by, captured thousands of moments in time. I thought about the many places the camera had seen – how many thousands of images have been captured onto film, then transferred onto paper or transformed into slides. By holding the slides up to the light, you can see the shadows of people - barely visible - ghosts of your ancestors, if you will.

The relics we keep represent our lives, our prime time days gone by, and the passage of youth to aging.

Beneath the shelf hangs an old man’s cane – its brass head resembles a Mallard duck, but over time, frequent use has smoothed away the fine details, leaving a rich patina in its place. The mahogany cane is very distinguished looking, reminiscent of the man who once owned it. Looking around the room, I noticed a pair of mirrors hanging on the wall that had once belonged to my grandfather. Without realizing it, I surrounded myself with memories of his life, and in that instant became the keeper of my family’s history, pictures, and treasured heirlooms – my great-grandmother’s delicate, hand embroidered linens and scarves decorate my tables and dresser. An old flintlock fowling piece engraved with the owner’s name, and hand-made before the Civil War, found its way home to me. It belonged to one of my ancestors, Edward A Kennard, a family deeply rooted in the rocky soil of Maine since 1625.

A carefully preserved steamer trunk also sits in the room. Inside are family mementos - each one with a story to tell - a rabbit fur pillbox hat and muff, that my mother wore to my aunt’s wedding, vintage Christmas ornaments, Depression Glass dishes, and my grandmother’s wedding dress which was not so carefully preserved. How did it feel to wear the hand boned wedding dress, with its delicate bonnet and tiny kid gloves? I try to imagine my grandfather, as a young man, traveling. Where did he go that he needed such a large trunk? Did he use the flintlock that hung over the kitchen mantle for so many years to hunt with family members?

At my grandfather’s passing, my mother, aunt and I went through boxes that had been packed away for many years. One box contained a shoebox filled with jewelry belonging to various family members long since passed. My mother would pick up a pin and say it belonged to my Grandnannie, or my Auntie would fondle a necklace and say, “Oh, that belonged to Tadair! Don’t you remember she always wore it to church?” My mother and auntie prattled on as if I were their younger sister – though I was not yet born while the relation lived - and not yet their daughter and niece.

When it was my turn, I chose a hand carved cameo ring and necklace, a plain gold wedding band engraved with the owner’s initials, and a pink gold ring with a purple stone engraved “to M from F.” Neither my aunt nor my mother was sure to whom they had belonged, so I researched our family tree. I discovered the wedding band belonged to Marion Prime, my great-great grandmother, and the ring with the purple stone was a gift from her husband. My aunt and mother were upset they had not noticed the inscription themselves, but did not ask for the rings back. Through my research I had also discovered my relationship to the original owner of the fowling piece; and that the house my beloved Grandfather and Grandnannie lived in, was once a tavern, and frequently used for town meetings.

So what is the purpose of keeping these items? What do these items do for me? They are my link to the past, they keep me close to those I love and miss, and to those I never knew; they keep me connected to the land and places I miss. We keep these items to comfort us in hard times. As long as we have them, we are secure – we are safe. The memories of our family live on more vividly.

On further reflection, I realized that most of the antiques Mother had given to me had belonged to her parents. The hand-boned bodice had been removed from the skirt of the wedding dress, both now yellow with age, the lace nearly brown in spots, and torn in others. This dress had not been carefully packed away to preserve it, and I wondered why. My mother carefully packed my wedding dress, and that of my sister’s, in acid-proof paper, and gave them to me. My mother cleans her closets, and at the same time discards the unpleasant memories that cling to those trinkets. I envy her; she removes the skeletons from her closet so easily, while I cling to mine like a life ring.

This leads me to believe that I have a different perspective of my family – my past – than my mother and aunt. Did the old Brownie camera lie? The camera I saw took pictures of a young, but happy family, and later pensive teenage girls with their mother; I saw smiling pictures of family picnics at the lakeside cabin. The stories it does not tell are the angst the mother feels toward her eldest daughter, my mother. My mother remembers her mother as someone who never liked her daughter for the way she was, who was always trying to control her, and who expressed disappointment at her daughter’s life decisions. It doesn’t tell the story about the daughter who later is forced to care for her father in his advanced stages of Alzheimer’s – the daughter who later gives away his belongings – to separate herself from the bad memories of the past – and to separate herself from the guilt.
When I look at my grandfather’s picture I see a caring man who proudly showed off his miniature train collection, as proudly as he displayed his children’s pictures, a man who worked for Sears, the man who was never too busy to answer a little girl’s question or to take her to picnics in the park, or to the zoo.

Was Jacob Marley right, after all? “We forge our chains in life, link by link, and yard by yard.” Are we remembered by what we leave behind in our belongings, as well as in our children’s memories? In the passing of my grandfather, I saw that my mother was first someone’s daughter and my mother second. The resentment she felt toward her parents was there in front of me, but I could not see it. I saw too, my own shortcomings as a parent, and I wept for the loss of child-like innocence.
The old Brownie camera captured thousands of moments in time, but the stories they tell are etched in the lines on our faces, forever burned into our memories. Does the camera lie?

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Frozen Frontier

Winters in northern Minnesota are cold and bleak, void of visual stimulation, and often leave one’s mind to drift aimlessly. Today is one of those days; bored, I stared out the window at the village of fish houses that dotted the frozen landscape. The dazzling December snow had given way to dry capped peaks, formed by endless sweeping winds, leaving a crusty wake over the surface of the lake. I felt detached from my body - a virtual stranger to myself – my mind drifting, swirling in and out of reality with the wind, drifting back to a more exciting time in my life, when I was a stranger in another frozen landscape.

Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth - technically a desert - due to the lack of humidity and precipitation. The inescapable isolation gets under your skin, and never leaves. You may leave, but part of you will stay, forever frozen in time like the fossils or the historical exploration sites of early Antarctic explorers. The time I spent there was the most breathtaking and memorable experience of my life.

I’ll never forget my first day on the ice. Stepping off the C-5 cargo plane that shuttled the many explorers and scientists to the ice, I took a breath. The air was deliciously cold and fresh smelling, but the intense cold immediately froze my nostrils, creating little ice rocks so sharp that my nose bled. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the pristine beauty and serenity of the place. I could’ve stood in that one spot forever, taking everything in. Imagine, a landscape that has stayed the same for hundreds or thousands of years, changed only by the seasons and the glaciers that slowly made their way to the bay. Animals roamed the ice-crusted surface freely, their only thoughts of instinct, survival of the fittest.

Off in the distance, I noticed a group of Adelie penguins standing next to a series of colored flags – green on one side, red on the other. The black and white penguins had a white circle around each eye, making them stand out next to the colored flags. I chuckled at the sight, thinking they looked like they were waiting for a bus. I continued to scan the horizon, wondering aloud about the location of Mt Erebus, an active volcano, in relation to the snowcapped mountain range I saw in the distance. My companions, who were more seasoned than I, laughed at the “FNGY” – a friggin’ new guy. They told me it was not snow, but glaciers, that were slowly moving across the mountains until they reached the ice shelf; their ultimate destination the sea.

As I continued to stare in amazement at the frozen countryside, I considered myself very fortunate to be at McMurdo Station. I was part of an elite military detachment assigned to support the National Science Foundation in their research of Antarctica. As part of the maintenance department, it was my job to keep the UH-1N “Huey” helicopters and LC-130F cargo planes flying, a job I took seriously. We had to be ready to launch at a moment’s notice to search for a lost soul, who may have somehow gotten turned around in the savage wilderness known as “the ice.” I was happy to be of service to such a worthy cause, to be part of history, and just maybe make a difference. Knowing that I was standing on the very ground explorers had only discovered within the last century, gave me goosebumps - I shivered at the memory of those explorers who died in the name of science, for the benefit of society.

McMurdo Station, located on Ross Island, is the largest of three permanent research bases maintained by the United States. (The other two are Admundsen-Scott, located at the South Pole, and Palmer Station, located at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.) Each year the population soars from a low of 250 in the winter, to approximately 1,700 in the summer. The unforgiving climate can dip as low as -127° F with winds gusting to 200 miles per hour. It never ceased to amaze me how so many different people and cultures could live in such extreme temperatures without killing each other!

Later that summer, one of the mechanics working in the heavy equipment shop attacked one of his acquaintances with a claw hammer. The mechanic was on a weekend drinking binge, and needed more beer. A fellow working in the Ship’s Store refused to sell him more beer since he had already used his weekly ration. The mechanic lay in wait for the poor fellow as he left work for the day. The next day, the mechanic was shipped back to the States to await prosecution for murder.

In addition to studying the ever-increasing hole in the ozone, international scientists gathered in Antarctica to study the animal life – whales, seals, penguins, and Antarctic cod. Of all the animals, the Antarctic cod is the most hideous with an opaque body and huge jagged teeth that would be better suited to a shark. Aside from its appearance, the fish is very unusual in that it has a type of antifreeze in its blood.

Once in a while my shift ended early; all maintenance had been completed on the helicopters, and they were ready for the next day's mission. The day workers were sleeping soundly; out of consideration, the shift supervisor had forbidden us to return to our barracks. Looking for something to do, a couple of co-workers and I hiked across the rocky helo pad and down the steep hill to the water. The ice was thin, and had melted near the shore. Always curious, I reached out and put my hand in the water. I was surprised at the coldness; it was like putting your hand in a cooler full of beer cans and partially melted ice. Looking up, my friends, Tim and Joe, were crossing the ice floes on a makeshift bridge of pallets and plywood to reach a couple of huts known as “the aquarium.” Not wanting to miss anything, I quickly withdrew my hand, and hurried to catch up with my friends.

Opening the door to the first hut, we were disappointed to see nothing but a chair, a hole in the ice, and a basket with a long nylon rope attached. I picked up the rope, noticing a series of knots tied every 12 inches. Tim picked up the basket and lowered it into the water. We watched silently as the rope dropped further and further, counting each knot as it disappeared into the icy blackness. At the 15-foot mark, I was amazed that the basket hadn’t touched bottom, yet the hut was only eight to ten feet from the shore. My friends and I discussed the various theories behind the hut’s existence, and the black hole in the ice, as the basket was quickly hauled up. I wasn’t surprised to see it was empty, and we moved on to the next hut.
The Aquarium was a fairly large hut, approximately 100 square feet enclosing five large round tanks of seawater. A large fluorescent lantern hung by the door and we switched it on as we entered the room. The huge, fish tanks were dark, but I could vaguely make out the silhouette of a large fish. I leaned over the side of the tank to get a better look, and suddenly a gaping hole of teeth was in my face. “Ahh!” I cried, jumping back. “What the heck is that?” “Don’t get too close,” said Tim. “Those fish’ll eat anything.” “Gee, thanks for the warning!” I shot back, humbled once again in my fingyness. As I circled the tanks from a safe distance, multicolored starfish, and sea urchins caught my eye, and I thought I recognized a sea cucumber from a picture I saw in a National Geographic magazine. I also saw a few small codfish in the tanks; their translucent bodies seemed to glow in the fluorescent light of the lantern. We tapped on the glass to provoke the fish, but they didn’t bite, and after a few minutes we left the aquarium to seek out and explore the hydroponic greenhouse near Observation Hill.

For each scientist on the ice, there was four support staff, each person having their own reason for being there. Like me, some people came for the unique work experience; others came to escape bill collectors, the reality of a bad marriage, or the human race in general – it was easy to do in the forgotten, isolation of the Ice.

Because I worked the night shift my day began promptly at 5:30 pm. Groaning, I slipped out of the warm darkness of my bed and rushed to the “head” to shower. The tiled floor was cold under my bare feet, and I shivered waiting for the water to warm. Ignoring the posted signs limiting showers to five minutes, I lathered slowly, allowing the hot water to warm my cold muscles. It seemed I could never get warm enough, but I reluctantly turned off the shower and dressed quickly for work. Leaving the warmth of my dorm, I squinted as my eyes adjusted to the partly sunny sky. It seemed to promise mild temperatures for the time being, and I hoped the weather would hold long enough for a plane to come through with mail and fresh vegetables. Trudging slowly down the hill to the helo hanger, the wind gusted suddenly and I felt icy crystals pelting my face. “Not a good sign,” I thought, pulling the hood of my parka closer to my face. I picked up my pace and hurried toward the bright lights of the helicopter hanger.

Working nights in the helo hanger meant that my team did the majority of the work, but luckily there were hidden benefits. We were there when the last flight of the day returned, bringing back the latest and greatest news reports from the ice camps. It also meant we got to see rock samples containing fossils from the dry valleys. These samples supported the theory that the continent was once been home to a tropical jungle. We were also there to scavenge through any remaining skua bags – bag lunches – unwanted leftovers from the passengers and flight crews. Skuas are very aggressive birds, similar to sea gulls, and will eat literally anything they can pick up. Skua bags often contain highly prized treats like, unopened bags of chips, pudding, boxes of juice and Cadbury bars from New Zealand, and sometimes, fresh fruit.
One evening a pilot came back and asked if anyone wanted to fly out to the edge of the ice shelf. There weren’t any electrical gripes I could work that evening, so I gathered up my ECW gear (extreme cold weather), grabbed a helmet, and jumped onboard.

As the helicopter began its ascent, the crew chief hopped out onto the right skid and watched the clearance between the ground and us. It was his job to ensure the helo did not collide with the rocky landscape. Once clear of the pad, the crew chief climbed back in and we were on our way! Shortly I heard choppy communications through my head set. It was the pilot asking if I, or my fellow passengers, had ever “shot the gap.” Being “fngys,” neither my companions nor I knew what he was talking about. An evil chuckle in our headsets let us know that we were in for the ride of our lives. “Hang on!” the crew chief called, as he slid the side crew door open, locking it in place.

All barriers between the ground and me were now gone, and it made me nervous; my heart was in my throat, and I felt like I was going to be sick. Looking away, I saw two huge rock spires directly in front of us. “Oh, no,” I thought. “We’re not going to make it!” My life flashed in front of my eyes, as the helicopter tilted sideways and we whisked through the gap between the spires with inches to spare.

Once I caught my breath, I realized that everyone was laughing. “Shooting the gap” was part of the OAE initiation ritual. I could now call myself an Old Antarctic Explorer. Looking out the door in embarrassment, I was amused to see a group of penguins running away from the noise of the helicopter. The fleeing penguins gave me a chance to gather my composure and hide my fears. Not long after, I saw a blast of water shoot up from a hole in the ice. “Look down there!” the crew chief said, pointing toward a hole in the ice. “We’ll set the bird down near that hole.” Once more the crew chief climbed out onto the skid and called the clearance to the pilot.
On landing, the crew chief grabbed his auger and attempted to drill a hole in the ice. I watched with growing skepticism. Why would anyone intentionally drill a hole in the ice? We were not here to go fishing! But I kept my thoughts to myself, not wanting to ask any stupid questions. After a few minutes, the crew chief decided the ice was thick enough to hold the weight of the 9,000-pound helicopter. The pilot shut the aircraft down, and everyone climbed safely out onto the ice. Periodically the crew chief would grab his ice pick and test the ice here and there, making sure the ice was safe to continue, and that no one would fall into a crevasse. A crevasse is a narrow opening in the ice. If anyone stepped into it, their body would melt the ice walls around them, causing them to become wedged, or worse, slowly fall deeper and deeper into the ice before freezing to death.

After what seemed like an hour, we spotted a group of Adelie penguins. A few members of our crew were slowly inching their way toward the penguins, not really sure what the penguins would do. During the squadron’s pre-deployment brief, we were told that some penguins would attack humans if they felt threatened. I kept trudging along, not really wanting to be pecked by a penguin. After a few minutes I looked back and noticed my fellow crewmembers were standing among the penguins. I quickly pulled my cameral out and took a picture. “This should be good blackmail for some beer,” I chuckled.

Shortly thereafter, I reached the hole in the ice where we had seen the spout of water. There was a large pod of killer whales swimming around. At first I stood back away from the water. I heard that Orcas would eat humans if they mistook them for a seal. But soon my fears subsided and I found myself kneeling down to pet a baby whale. The whale’s skin was smooth and cold, almost like plastic. He wasn’t afraid of me, and soon a bull whale surfaced nearby. Not sure what to expect, I backed up. Just then the whale jumped up into the air and splashed back down into the icy black water. Everyone was amazed at the whale’s behavior. We weren’t expecting an untrained whale to behave as if he was at Sea World. The whale continued to jump into the air, as if showing off for his human audience. Our entertainment continued for about 20 minutes, each whale taking a turn leaping into the air. When the whales tired of this activity, we left them alone. They were too big and dangerous to aggravate, and I didn’t want to become whale food. I looked back toward the helicopter to get my bearings and spotted several Emperor penguins standing near our landing area.

The birds were as curious about me as I was about them, and as I walked toward them, they scooted along on their bellies toward me. Once they got closer, I could better appreciate the beautiful birds. Emperor penguins stand about four feet tall; they have a shiny, jet black “tuxedo” with a pearly white “shirt” and yellow feathers that looked like an inverted teardrop beside beady, black eyes. A black bill with a yellow-orange streak offsets their large head. I fumbled with my camera, hoping to get a great shot before they moved away. Hearing the shutter click, the penguins scooted off on their bellies in search of new adventures.

About that time, the crew chief shouted that everyone had to get back to the helicopter. Reluctantly, I walked toward the helicopter that was to take us back to civilization. Pausing a moment, I turned to get one last look at the great, frozen paradise, and the animals that captured my heart. A group of Adelie penguins had been following me as if I were the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Adelie penguins are very shy, and will drift away from outsiders trying to get a closer look, but they are also curious. Wanting to freeze that moment in time, I quietly took a picture. Once everyone was onboard, the helicopter rose and we began the journey back to McMurdo Station.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


It was autumn in New England, and the last of the hummingbirds made a hasty stop at the wild flowers growing nearby before heading south for the winter. A stand of tall, fragrant pine trees lined the rough, rocky shore of the river, and it was mine alone to enjoy. The swift, swirling current formed white-capped waves that threw gray globs of lifeless jelly fish onto the shore. Here and there, decaying skeletons of crabs were scattered around the beach; most were small and green, their legs – still attached – swaying to the rhythm of the tides. Large horseshoe crabs formed a deadly oasis; fortified by large spikes standing straight and tall at the base of the shells, a warning to beachcombers and gulls alike to stay away.

I sat down on a log taking in the view; the smell of salt in the air a reminder that the river spilled into the ocean only a few miles downstream. This was my sanctuary, the perfect place to escape my nosy brother and sister, who were probably rummaging through my treasures at this very moment; a place known only to myself. The sound of the water lapping at the shore was briefly interrupted by the sound of a tugboat, guiding a tanker through the channel to the ocean, where it would depart for an unknown destination.

A long stick peeking out of the water caught my eye, and I gingerly made my way into the water to pick it up. It was a thin branch from a pine tree and I quickly removed the remaining needles and wispy branches. I liked the sound they made as the sticks snapped off in my hand, even though it stung a little. Pine tree branches made great sticks for poking things, and they smelled good. I didn’t much care for the black signature the pitch left in my hand, so I quickly washed my hands in the cold river. Still, it was a good stick for poking jellyfish.

I wanted to reach down and touch one of the gray globs. Did it feel as soft and smooth as it looked? My mother always warned me not to touch the jellyfish because the tentacles would sting like a bee – only worse. I bent down to get a closer look, my bottom nearly touching the water from the waves created by the boats as they passed. I didn’t see any tentacles, but decided not to touch it after all. I nudged it a little with my sneaker. The jellyfish was rubbery, and I liked the way it felt, giving slightly under the pressure of my Keds. By now the water squished between my toes, so I walked the length of the beach to dry my sneakers, down to the big rocks that jutted out into the river, blocking my way, forcing me to turn back.

One day I decided to share my sanctuary with my best friend, Renee. I showed her the path I found through the woods. It straddled the field behind our houses, and was always bursting with wild strawberries and blueberries throughout the summer. I told her of the hummingbirds and chattering blue jays, and of course the jelly fish.
Approaching the river, we saw two strange boys tending a fire. They were much older than we, and little red flags of alarm went off in my head. I could feel my neck stiffen as they addressed us. “Hey, looky here!” The boy poking at the fire looked up. “What do you think we should do with them?” he asked and they both began laughing. Renee and I turned and ran as fast as we could back through the woods, to the safety of home.

Even though I didn’t understand what the boys were talking about, or why they were laughing, I never went back to my spot by the river. It was tainted – no longer mine alone – so I found another spot deeper into the woods. The sad remnants of a rusted tractor sat at the edge of a small brook. I sat down and leaned against the base of a tall pine tree. The sunlight streaming through the canopy of pines made the water glimmer like diamonds, and I could almost see the fairies hiding among the lady slippers and toadstools. The brook had awakened a creative force, and it surged through me as the river surged toward the open sea.

I never went back to my place at the river’s edge, but it is the place I return to time and time again in my mind. As an adult now, when the pressures of the world become too much to bear, when I long for home and the unmistakable smell of salt spray in the cold air, I return to the river – my sanctuary – my Atlantis.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dust & Fire Review

Dust and Fire is an anthology, a collection of poetry and prose, written by local authors in the Northwoods of Minnesota. It is interesting to note, the word anthology has roots in the Greek language, anthos – meaning flower, and logia – meaning collecting.

The stories are written by, and are about, women. Not the tall, leggy, ever-so-slender cover girl-model type of women, but real women – the kind that might carry a few extra pounds, the kind that isn’t perfect everyday, the kind of women that you see on the sidewalk, or in the dog food aisle of the supermarket.

On these pages are the heart and soul of roses, carnations, and marigolds; if you look carefully, you may see "The Scar" left by a careless admirer. If you read carefully you may even see a dahlia or two tucked in beneath the gladiolas, each of them different in their own way, but all of them similar in that they are reaching out to a passerby, seeking an audience, "Finding Water."

Monday, April 18, 2005

Sheep's Clothing

My daughters frequently complained that I was a working Mom, and was never around when they needed me. They resent not having a perfect family life – the stereotypical childhood where Mom stays home to cook and clean the house, Daddy comes home to happy children, and the whole family sits at the table for dinner. Well since we are throwing stones, I suppose I, too, could be a little resentful, for not having the happy, stereotypical children.

When I was growing up, young women were expected to get married and raise families. Some women went to college, but quit their jobs when they became pregnant. Mother-daughter pre-marital talks were about birth control, keeping house, and how to treat their husband. Not once did I ever hear about the dark side of families.

What is the dark side? The dark side of families is the side that is swept under the rug and not talked about, or covered with a hat and sunglasses, the ugliness that not even good makeup could cover, the abuse by someone who was supposed to love you. The side my daughters never saw, were too young to remember, or chose to forget if they did see.

I was 19 when I had my first child, though still a child myself. I was raised in a small town where the crime of the century was limited to the indiscretions of a few disgruntled spouses, the occasional party-gone-too-wild, or the whisperings of meddlesome old biddies with nothing better to do. I still remember seeing the dent in the wall, the imprint of my mother’s head. Funny thing about memory, I don’t remember hearing about the abuse – or the impassioned warning from my mother “Beware! Men are wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Maybe it was too painful to remember. Maybe I didn’t want to hear anything other than what June and Walter Cleaver discussed over dinner.

Abuse takes many forms, and affects millions of people. Men have been known to suffer from Battered Spouse Syndrome, but women are usually the more common victims. Too bad the experts forgot to remember the children, for they, too, suffer. Sometimes they grow up to become the batterers, other times they grow up to become the ones beaten, with only just a few ribs broken, or maybe suffer permanent brain damage from being hit in the head one too many times. You know the ones – they’re a little slow, not retarded – but not quite there - the light's on but nobody's home. I don’t remember hearing about this side of family life. The light’s on, but the dark side is still dark.

When I was 18, I met a man who was all charm. Being a late bloomer who never dated much, I was flattered at all the attention. We dated for a short time before we were married. While I was pregnant with my first child, the dark side reared its ugly head. We had been arguing – he was insanely jealous of anyone talking to me. Maybe we were both late bloomers; maybe that was why he was so jealous. It was probably selfish, but I never really thought about his reasons for beating me. Although alcohol and drug abuse almost always preceded these episodes, to me it didn’t matter – you just don’t hit your wife, especially a pregnant one!

One day his jealousy drove him over the edge. We were attending a company picnic and, parking me at a shady picnic table, he wandered off to drink with his friends. “Jerry’s” friends frequently razzed him about being tied to his wife’s apron, and this occasion was no different. He made light of the situation, but it was obvious the comment stung him deeply. As the afternoon wore on, he became increasingly drunk and obnoxious. When I approached him about going home, he pushed me away. “No woman tells me what to do!” he bragged. And before anyone realized what was happening, Jerry pulled his keys off the key ring, and flung them up into the air. He fell down into the grass, roaring with drunken laughter. As I crawled around the grass desperately searching for the only set of car keys, he poked fun of me, calling me his cash cow. I tried to stand up, only to be pushed down into the grass. I glared at him, swearing revenge, when something shiny caught my eye. I said nothing as I crept over to the object. A pretty face briefly drew his attention away, and I grabbed the key, placing it in the pocket of my dress. I was furious, and told him to find his own ride home. As I waddled away, he ran after me apologizing, pleading with me to give him a ride home. “I’m soorrry,” he belched. “I’m just having a liddle ffun!” I was always a sucker for a lost cause, and today was no exception. I knew he probably wouldn’t remember a word of our conversation, so I acquiesced, and struggled to pour him into the car. When we arrived at our apartment, he fell out of the car, and staggered toward the door. “Open up!” he shouted, pounding on the door. “Hey! Lemme in!” I could still hear him cussing at me as I walked around the building, hoping to find an open window. As luck would have it, the bathroom window had been left open slightly. Using a stick, I pulled at the screen managing to tear a small opening just large enough to get my fingers inside. As I slid the window open, I wished I were anywhere but here. When I finally opened the front door, he grabbed me by the throat and squeezed. “You bitch!” he screamed. “Why wouldn’t you let me in?” I struggled violently, but he was too strong. He punched me, and I fell down. I tried to scream, but couldn’t breath. His hands tightened around my neck. I felt weak – everything was turning dark – his rank, fetid breath was the last thing I remembered.

Suddenly, I felt the weight ease off my chest. I could breathe again, and I started to cough. I heard voices and tried to find the source. My head was pounding, and my throat felt as if I had swallowed glass. I tried to get up, but a small hand gently pressed me down. It was my next-door neighbor, who had heard us fighting; her husband arrived in the nick of time, and stopped Jerry from strangling me.

Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat. I can still smell his fetid breath, his hands around my throat, squeezing, slowly stealing my life from me. Sometimes the light plays tricks on me, and I can still see the dark, blue-black bruises around my throat. “Jerry” is gone now. I find it ironic and somewhat comforting that, in the end, his bad habits – drug and alcohol abuse – were responsible for taking his own life.

Today, the dark side is better known as spousal abuse. It is the dark side of family life that I do not ever want my sons or daughters to experience firsthand. I failed as a mother when I could not protect them from being exposed to it, or even when they, as children, were abused themselves. But I can, and will, warn them of the dark side – the wolf in sheep’s clothing – so they do not become victims again.