Friday, August 6, 2021

Tim's Fourth Return Trip to Minnesota in His Mind

This is my fourth "Minnesota in My Mind" blog. Even though I’ve only been to that great state once, and very briefly, I somehow end up reading a lot of books either set in Minnesota or written by Minnesota authors, many for upcoming Bo
swell events. It occurred to me last year that I keep going back there in my mind through books, as James Taylor goes back home in his song, "Carolina in My Mind."  After writing the first Minnesota blog, I sent our Marketing Man Chris an email joke with the first verse of the tongue-in-cheek version of Taylor's song that you see down below. I never thought he’d add it to the blog (ed. note: of course I was going to!) When I suggested a second Minnesota books post, he liked the idea… as long as I added a second verse. I thought it was all done with post #3 this spring, when hope was high for relief from a tough year. But now I’ve got a new reason for Minnesota inspiration, and I’m still working on that springtime brain-thaw renewal from my song. So, here we go again, with a little side trip into Michigan this time! The latest additions I made to the song are the bridge and the ending. Both are variations of a live Taylor performance.

My new Northland inspiration is a novel from William Kent Krueger, who made an appearance in the first Minnesota blog. Lightning Strike is the latest in his mystery series featuring Sheriff Cork O'Connor, a man with both Irish and Ojibwe heritage. It's entertaining for the storytelling and fascinating for the cultural complexity. Cork is a law man with Indigenous family and friends, as well as a white Irish police lineage going back to Chicago city cops. This entry is special, because we meet Cork at the beginning, as a 12-year-old boy whose father Liam is the Sheriff of a county including Minnesota Boundary Waters and the Iron Lake Reservation. Cork and his friend find a haunting scene in a sacred place called Lightning Strike. It’s the body of a respected Ojibwe man, a family friend. Is there a killer out there, or did he take his own life? Krueger does a fine job of showing us the political and cultural tension between indigenous and white communities, and he develops extraordinary children as characters. Cork is a kid with heart, relentless curiosity, and an early knack for investigation skills that he’ll need as a Sheriff throughout the series. I enjoyed every last minute!

My side trip into Michigan is for a teen thriller called Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley. Although it takes place in Sault Ste Marie, the connection to Lightening Strike is clear. Like Cork, 19-year-old Daunis Fontaine has both white and Ojibwe parents. We know it's a thriller on the first page, when we’re given a glimpse of what’s to come - a revolver pointed at our narrator's face - but it doesn't happen at break-neck speed. Daunis tells a very personal story. She was born a scandal, but her wealthy, white, sixteen-year-old mother insisted on keeping her close to her Ojibwe father’s family. Daunis balances two worlds, loved by both and never completely fitting with either. Now she’s ready for college, looking to be a doctor in the safe world her money and light skin allow her, but things aren't going as planned. Her community needs help now to solve a dangerous problem. Daunis will fight through traumatic losses and walk straight into danger to protect her people, all while pretending she's not falling in love. She's impressive. It’s a powerful, eye-opening novel, with deep cultural lessons and great suspense. Boulley was the Director of the US Office of Indian Education. She took ten years to write this book, and it shows. A beautifully developed novel, certain to be one of my top book picks of 2021! 

Quickly, back to Minnesota! Margaret Noodin was an Ojibwe language consultant for Firekeeper's Daughter. She earned MFA and Doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota. Now she teaches the language of the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe People (Anishinaabemowin) at UW-Milwaukee, where she directs the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education. Margaret's beautiful poetry in What the Chickadee Knows is conceived and written in Anishinaabemowin, then offered on the facing pages in English. Finding such profound inspiration is a literary gift, and it warms my heart to know that her daughter did the cover art.

I'm heading out again. Thanks for reading!

"Minnesota in My Mind​"
(to the tune of James Taylor's "Carolina in My Mind")

In my mind I’m gone to Minnesota.
Can’t you feel the snowfall?
Just leave your boots out in the hall.
Car gets stuck, and then it stalls.
Ya get hit from behind.
Yes, I’m gone to Minnesota in my mind.

Heard some stuff from a Facebook friend who lives there.
When my verse reduced her home to misery in snow.
It’s not a bad place, she said.
For a bit I hung my head.
But held on to a longing for 
this land I’ve never known. 
I’m still gone to Minnesota in my mind. 

With walls of gifted authors all around me, 
still I’m on the dark side of the moon.
And this year of heartache feels 
more like forever.
You must forgive me, if I’m up and gone 
to Minnesota in my mind.

Spring’ll come again to Minnesota.
All that ice is bound to crack.
Free us from this bind.
Frozen brains can thaw at last,
with a little heat from northern writers of all kinds.
Oh, I’m back in Minnesota in my mind.

Once again, it’s Minnesota in my mind…
Say nice things about me ‘cause I’m gone,
gone… gone.
Carry on without me because I’m gone.
I’m… gone.
Gone to Minnesota in my mind.

                                             - Sweet Baby Tim

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