june 11/RUN

5k
2 trails + 7 oaks
81 degrees
dew point: 68

How many days have we been above 90 now? Just checked my log, since at least June 4th. Tomorrow the high is only 86. Summer running is not my favorite, although I am learning to endure it more. 55-65 degrees is what I’d like to have for these early morning runs.

I ran south on the river road trail and passed lots of bikes, but not too many runners. All the green made it difficult to see the river. At 42nd, I encountered a roller skier in the grass taking a break. Can it still be my good omen if I don’t hear the clickity-clacks? Entering the Winchell Trail at the southern start, it was dark and quiet and thick with heat. No noise, not even a single dribble from the sewer pipe. A few days ago, STA and I were discussing the grossness of the word “dribble”–it’s a failure to flow or function properly. You dribble drool or pee. It’s like a weaker form of leaking.

Parts of the Winchell trail were a blur. I don’t remember running down the hill to the little bridge with the raised lip of the trail that I have to look out for so I don’t trip on it, or running up the mini hill just before the steeper climb at Folwell. After ascending at Folwell, then descending on the other side, back down a little closer to the river, I realized I was more than half way done with this hot run, and it felt easier because of this realization.

For the last 1/2 mile, I started reciting “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in my head. I got as far as the verse, “The Sun came up upon the left/out of the sea came he/And he shone bright/and to the right went down into the sea.”

Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha

Lorine Niedecker’s work is inspiring me to think in deeper ways about the place I run–the Mississippi River Gorge, Minnehaha Falls, Lake Nokomis. Part of this involves thinking more about the rock and stone–the physical geography, and part of it involves reflecting on the haunting trace of dishonest treaties, stolen land, buried stories and traditions, and who controls the stories we encounter/remember/pass on about the river, the gorge, and the falls (St. Anthony and Minnehaha).

Yesterday, I decided to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha” It’s in the public domain so I was able to download the entire thing for free on iBooks–all 400+ pages of it! 22 chapters?! Wow. I had no idea it was so long. I wonder what part of it is etched on the stone at Minnehaha Falls? I’ll have to check next time I bike or run over there. Not sure I’ll be reading the entire thing, but it’s interesting to skim it and think about how much of where I live takes names from this poem: Now I live in Longfellow neighborhood, I used to live in Nokomis east. My kids went to Hiawatha Elementary School and spent their summers in camp a few miles away at Lake Hiawatha.. I regularly run to Minnehaha Falls and beside Minnehaha Creek. I do open swim at Lake Nokomis.

The only part of “The Song of Hiawatha” that I remember, is the brief bit that my grandma Ines would recite when we visited her at the family farm in the upper peninsula of Michigan:

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water

Gitche Gumee is another name of Lake Superior. So many connections. In “Lake Superior” Lorine Niedecker never mentions Longfellow or his poem, but she does reference Schoolcraft–the explorer whose notes and book Longfellow relied on for his epic poem. Another thing I just learned about Schoolcraft: he “discovered” and named Lake Itasca. It’s not a variation on an indigenous name, but the mashing up of the latin phrase for true/head source: verITAS CAput

Last night, I checked out a little bit of the final chapter (ch 22): “Hiawatha’s Departure” and I cringed when I got to the description of the white missionary being welcomed by Hiawatha with delight:

From the distant land of Wabun*,
From the farthest realms of morning
Came the Black-Robe chief, the Prophet,
He the Priest of Prayer, the Pale-face,
With his guides and his companions.

And the noble Hiawatha,
With his hands aloft extended,
Held aloft in sign of welcome,
Waited, full of exultation,
Till the birch canoe with paddles
Grated on the shining pebbles,
Stranded on the sandy margin,
Till the Black-Robe chief, the Pale-face,
With the cross upon his bosom,
Landed on the sandy margin.

Then the joyous Hiawatha
Cried aloud and spake in this wise:
“Beautiful is the sun, O strangers,
When you come so far to see us!
All our town in peace awaits you,
All our doors stand open for you;
You shall enter all our wigwams,
For the heart’s right hand we give you.”

“Never bloomed the earth so gayly,
Never shone the sun so brightly,
As to-day they shine and blossom
When you come so far to see us!

*Wabun is also the name of a park near Minnehaha Falls that I sometimes run through and that has a wonderful wading pool that I used to take my kids to when they were younger. I never knew what Wabun meant; it’s sunrise (from the Anishinaabe language).

But, back to Schoolcraft and Niedecker’s poem “Lake Superior.” Here’s an excerpt from the poem that uses details from Schoolcraft’s accounts of reaching Lake Itasca and the source of the Mississippi River. Interesting to note something I just found out: Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” takes place in UP Michigan by the pictured rocks on Lake Superior, near Munsing. Niedecker references Pictured Rocks in this excerpt (“Wave-cut Cambrian rock/painted by soluble mineral oxides”:

Schoolcraft left the Soo–canoes
US pennants, masts, sails
chanting canoemen, barge
soldiers–for Minnesota

Their South Shore journey
as if Life’s—
The Chocolate River
The Laughing Fish
and The River of the Dead

Passed peaks of volcanic thrust
Hornblende in massed granite
Wave-cut Cambrian rock
painted by soluble mineral oxides
wave-washed and the rains
did their work and a green
running as from copper

Sea-roaring caverns—
Chippewas threw deermeat
to the savage maws
Voyaheurs crossed themselves
tossed a twist of tobacco in”

Inland then
beside the great grainite
gneiss and the schists

to the redolent pondy lakes’
lilies, flag and Indian reed
“through which we successfully
passed”

The smooth black stone
I picked up in true source park
the leaf beside it
once was stone

true source park = true source = lake itasca

I love how a poem like this requires some work from the reader. So many references, some might be obvious to those who know, but not to those of who don’t. So, we have to look things up, and it’s not too hard now with so much information online. How did people read these poems in the past? Did you spend your entire day at the library, hunting down sources? That might be fun. I like giving the reader work and some of the responsibility. For too many years I was told, as the writer, it is my sole responsibility to make my writing clear to others. If they can’t understand it, it is my failure. Poetry refuses this obligation and invites the reader to put in some effort to understand.

Chocolate River: I was thinking this was about the color of the river, but after more searching I found a reference to it in an account by Schoolcraft about the discovery of the sources of the Mississippi River: “on the coasts of the lake between Gitchi Sebing (Great River), called by the French, Chocolate River.” In some more searching, I haven’t found any more about a chocolate river. In the process of looking this up, I found a very cool page, What Color is the Mississippi River?–I recall asking this question not too long ago on this log.

june 10/SWIM

1 mile
lake nokomis big beach
30 minutes

Another mile swimming just off the big beach around the white buoys! Another almost perfect weather day–no wind, sun, warm, but not too warm, water! I checked online, the water temp is 75, which is plenty warm for me. Today I used my new safety buoy, not for safety, but to hold my phone and keys so I don’t have to leave them in my yellow backpack on the beach while I swim. It’s an inflatable buoy–bright yellow–with a dry pouch inside that you can store stuff in. You hook it to a belt that you wear around your waist. Pretty slick. For 7 years, when I swim, I leave my yellow backpack on the beach and it always makes me a little nervous, especially because it has my phone and my bike lock key. Now, I won’t worry. And, it’s good to have a buoy so that other people in boats can see me.

Right before my swim on Tuesday, as I put my swim cap on in the shallow water, I watched little minnows quickly swimming away from my approaching feet. Such a sweet and delightful thing to witness! What is the collective noun for minnows? A flash of minnows? A flurry of minnows? Looked it up and found some other answers: a swarm, a stream, a school of minnows. The minnows were still there this morning. I can’t remember if they stay all summer; I’ll have to check from them in July and August.

Since I had my phone with me, my distance was more accurate: today the activity app said I swam 1.08 miles, as compared to Tuesday when it said I swam .67 miles. I have decided that, for my purposes, 6 loops = 1 mile. 2 miles swam, 98 to go!

I didn’t see any flashes below me, or shafts of light, but I did encounter a few ducks right before I started, and a few bits of milfoil floating in the water. I noticed how the white buoys disappeared in my central vision, then reappeared in my periphery. I saw a paddle boarder and another swimmer–mostly I sensed another swimmer, hearing their hands occasionally slap the water, glimpsing a quick flash of foaming water in their wake.

I breathed every 5 strokes or five/six/five or three/four/five/three or every six. As I swam every six I thought about a poem I wrote a few years ago, “Submerged,” and how I like stroking more, breathing less in order to spend more time submerged, pretending I’m a fish. Sometimes I thought about my wonderful son FWA and how he graduated from high school last night. Those thoughts made my swim more relaxed. Other times I thought about something else–I can’t remember what, just that it involved worries–and my swim was harder, less free.

Found these two excerpts from Niedecker’s poem, “For Paul” (1950). The first one is about her failing vision: in 1949, she was diagnosed with nystagma (roving eyes). The second one is about June:

You are far away
sweet reason

Since I saw you last, Paul
my sight is weaker . . .

I still see–
it’s the facts are thick–
thru glass:

*

Hi, Hot-and-Humid

That June she’s a lush

She marsh wallows, frog bickering
moon pooling, green gripping

Fool
Keep cool

In my June 8th log entry, I posted Niedecker’s poem, “Paean to Place.” Love this poem. In an article about Niedecker’s ecopoetics, I found a link to a facsimile of a hand-written version of this poem that she made into a book for a friend. Nice!

Paean to Place, facsimile

Last night at FWA’s graduation, the principal gave an introduction/welcome in which he did a land acknowledgment, recognizing the land/city where the school was built is Dakota land. I wasn’t able to hear exactly what he said because a group of people two rows back wouldn’t shut up–am I the only person who actually wants to listen to (and enjoys) the speeches? Probably. Anyway, I’m not sure of his wording, or if he used the words “stolen” or is versus was Dakota land, but I was glad to hear him say something. Just hours before graduation, I was reading an article about land acknowledgment, its problems and possibilities: WHERE WE STAND: THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA AND DAKHÓTA TREATY LANDS

I’m thinking about how to incorporate a deeper recognition and acknowledgment of the history of that land I write about in my bio and through my poems.

june 9/RUN

4 miles
marshall hill
74 degrees
dew point: 66

Delia the dog woke me up and forced me out of bed at 5:45, yesterday it was 5:55. I suppose I should be grateful; I like early mornings in the summer. If she wakes me up at 5:30 tomorrow, we’re taking a walk. Mornings are magical. Getting up so early, I was able to sit, drink my coffee, and still get out for my run before 7. Very nice.

I ran the marshall hill route for the first time since november 24, 2019, just near the end of the before times. Running north on the river road trail, I greeted the Welcoming Oaks. So wonderful to run by them on this sunny morning! And, to run by the sprawling oak that shades the ancient boulder with the stacked stones–2 today. Heading down into the thickening tunnel of trees, I heard the clickity-clack of a lone roller skier and then the coxswain’s bullhorn. Rowers! Later, running over the lake street bridge, I managed to spot the rowers on the smooth, glassy river. Running up marshall hill was tough, but I convinced myself not to stop for a break until I was at the top. Reaching the east river road and running down the hill right above Shadow Falls was fun. Near the end of the run, I could hear the buzz of the cicadas. I liked the noise even though it sounded like heat.

My focus on water and stone this month has led me to Lorine Niedecker and I am excited. Her work is opening many doors for me. I bought Niedecker’s Lake Superior a few years ago, but never really looked at it. Now, I am, and I’m amazed. The book begins with her poem “Lake Superior” and then an excerpt of her notes for the poem. She took 300 single-spaced, type-written notes for a poem that is less than 400 words. Wow! At the end of the notes, the editor of this book mentions that all 300 pages of Niedecker’s notes are available online through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection. Nice!

side note: Reading an article about Niedecker, I discovered that her name is pronounced nee-decker, and that it had originally been spelled Neidecker but she changed it to make the pronunciation less confusing. Really? When I see Nie I think nye, and when I see Nei, I think neigh or nye, not nee. But maybe that’s just me?

Here’s a poem of hers that I imagine is one of her more well-known:

Poet’s work/ LORINE NIEDECKER

Grandfather   
   advised me:
         Learn a trade

I learned
   to sit at desk
         and condense

No layoff
   from this
         condensery

I love this poem–the idea of condensing as a trade, the valuing of condensing, the exemplification of it in the poem, “Lake Superior”–300 pages of notes condensed down to 300+ words!

Here are a few reasons I’m excited about Niedecker now, at the beginning of my encounters with her:

  • She writes about the lake I was born on, Lake Superior, and geology and geography that resonates with me
  • Her process: all the notes condensed down to a pithy, beautiful poem + the type of notes: history mixed with her travel stories, critical commentary on land and language and globalization
  • The forms of her poems and how the later ones might be influenced by her vision diagnosis when she was 46–she had nystagmic (your eyes constantly move, struggle to focus)
  • Her attention to and writing about rocks and water
  • The impact of her work through the WPA Writers program on the guide for Wisconsin + her work with Aldo Leopold
  • This brief essay, Switchboard Girl, in which she writes about her struggle to find work with her eye condition. I’m planning to read this closely; it might give me some useful language for understanding and communicating my own struggles with work after my diagnosis

It’s exciting to me how, slowly–4+ years of writing, reading, studying, listening to, memorizing poetry–I’m finding more ways into beautiful, useful, powerful, better words.

water and stone, another perspective

After posting this entry, I read some more of Tom Weber’s Minneapolis: An Urban Biography–specifically about the Dakota people, the settler colonizing of the area, and how Ramsey (gov. of Minnesota when it became a state + responsible for the Dakota Exclusion Act, making all Dakota people illegal in Mn + namesake of the county in which St. Paul resides) and Pike (responsible for the shady illegal treaties that led to Dakota people ceding all of their land to the US) were awful. Then I googled some more about St. Anthony Falls and found this interesting bit of information:

Owamni-yomni is ‘whirlpool’ in the Dakota language.
Gakaabika is ‘severed rock’ in the Ojibwe language. 

Water and rock. I want to read more about this naming and why the Dakota chose to emphasize water and the Ojibwe rock. Both viewed the place as sacred–I know a little more about the Dakota and how importance this water was for them, but not as much about Ojibwe and sandstone/limestone.

june 8/SWIM

1 mile/6 loops
lake nokomis, big beach
84 degrees

My first real swim (30 minutes straight) since September of 2019! Very exciting. My apple watch consistently underestimates the distance, so I’m not quite sure, but based on my pace and past loop swimming, I’ve decided I swam a mile. My first mile of many this summer, I hope. It’s ambitious, but I’d love to swim 100 miles this summer. Only 99 left.

The water was about as good as it gets. Not too cold, no chop, no debris. I could see the white buoys out of my periphery. I think I saw a few big fish swimming below me and some beams or streaks of light. Swimming so close to the white buoys, I got a good look at the brown muck on the underside of the buoys at each end. Yuck. I “raced” a paddle boarder paddling in from the middle of the lake, and avoided a few other boats. I mostly breathed every 5 strokes. Sometimes 5, then 6. A few times, 3. A lot of the time I thought about how my right shoulder–the one I injured last spring scraping paint off of the deck–ached a little more than my left, and whether or not the every-so-often sharp pain in my right ear was the start of something, but occasionally I thought about how much I love swimming, and how, even more than running, it gives you a way into another world, where your senses don’t work, or work strangely. Very cool. I like this water world.

For a few hours after I had finished, my body, especially my shoulders, felt slightly and pleasantly sore–not that miserable sore where you can barely move, but the sore you feel when you have worked your muscles and they are grateful to be used in this way finally, after a long 16 months away from the water.

My theme this month is water and stone. As I read through various essays, poems, articles, I’m coming to realize that I’m understanding the theme through the work of one of my new (not new, she’s died 4 years before I was born in 1970, but new to me) favorite poets: Lorine Niedecker. Here’s the opening to a beautiful poem that might serve as an inspiration for me (note: her cool spacing didn’t work when I pasted it into wordpress. Click on the poem to read it with the cool spacing):

Paean to Place/ LORINE NIEDECKER

And the place
was water
Fish
fowl
flood
Water lily mud
My life

in the leaves and on water
My mother and I
born
in swale and swamp and sworn
to water

I was born on water, Lake Superior in Hancock, Michigan, and my mom was too, Mississippi River in West St. Paul, Minnesota. While my mom never learned to swim, or love being in the water, I did. As a digital story I created more than 5 years ago begins: “I have loved water all my life.”