Saturday, July 08, 2006
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Or, alternatively, Where the Wind Hits Heavy on the Borderline.

Prepare yourself, reader, for a odd series of connections and associations. This is how my mind works. I've got two things in front of me: a laptop and a long plane ride.

To begin:

My car use is down significantly, but when I do use it, I use it for longer drives. A few weeks ago, I put a copy of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks in the CD changer. When listening to music, I'm latently considering new songs to cover for open mics. Simple Twist of Fate's sparse instrumentation made it a candidate. Camden, rather, preferred You're Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go.

I kept both in mind and, later, found the chords for each. The two songs are, actually, quite similar musically—both are played in an open-D tuning either capoed or tuned up to an E, so, for both, I've been playing around with chord shapes in an open tuning. They've both worked out well—I intend to play one or the other at my next open mic. I even bought a harmonica rack and a new D harmonica (identical to the C harmonica I got for a present last Christmas) in the hopes of being able to provide a harp fill over one of the verses.

But here's the important tangent: While perusing the chord site for Dylan, I clicked on Girl From the North Country, a song I've played around with before. I'm more fond of the version off of Freewheelin' Bob Dylan than the sloppy, rehashed and forced duet with Cash on first track of Nashville Skyline—besides, I like the E-minor fingerpicking more than the G-major two-and-four chops.

While my roommates were out, I was vegging out in the living room, playing the song over and over, contemplating the lyrics. The "North Country" in the song is a region of Northern Minnesota, bordering Canada, north of the Iron Range where Dylan is from—he spent his early years in Hibbing. There's a great article, Highway 61, Visited, by a New York Times reporter that makes a pilgramage to the area after reading a passage from Dylan's Chronicles. During a night of Guinness downing between Dylan and Bono, Dylan pegs Alexandria, Minnesota as the birthplace of America, where Vikings settled in the 1300's.

Thinking about the North Country made me recall my childhood. I spent time during my summers at Camp Chippewa, a boys' camp considerably further west, on Cass Lake, near Bemidji. One of the hallmarks of the camp was the canoe trips the older boys took to into Canada. My longest trip was taken in the Quetico, the wilderness area just on the other side of the Canadian border from Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Alex visited me in San Francisco a few weeks ago. I had been mulling taking a week to spend back in the Midwest, maybe Minocqua, possibly even making it a working vacation (again, the joys of SSH tunneling). I mentioned this to Alex to see if he'd have any time to come along. He said that he'd be starting his rotation for medical school in early July, but would be free until then. The long July 4th weekend was rapidly approaching and I noticed that many of my friends had already made plans to skip town.

So I took three days off and extended my four-day weekend into a weeklong trip. Alex booked a permit for the Boundary Waters and I booked a ticket to Minneapolis.

Our trip was from Monday to Friday. I was completely cut off from modernity. We paddled out and back, portaging and paddling. It was meditative, soul-cleansing, and exhausting. Other than the GPS (which Alex brought in case of emergency and we didn't use), my most technologically advanced item was my flashlight. We spent a good portion of our time following the U.S.-Canada border.

The drive also gave us a chance to stop by the Wellstone Memorial and Historic Site, a small memorial near where U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's plane went down in 2002. I had met Wellstone when he stumped in Madison during the 2000 elections, and I wanted to stop to pay my respects. The memorial was three miles from the highway, in the Iron Range. At the entrance, a poem was engraved on a smooth table of rock, at the base of which lay flowers and American flags, and on top lay an assortment of buttons, ones concerning labor and peace and one that, touchingly, read "ITMFA."

I smiled. I wore my own IMTFA button in the Pride Parade (see the photo)—it was a gift from Trisha, who had ordered and gotten it from the man himself.

The Iron Range is so named for the mining operations there. It, as well of much of rural Minnesota, is known for its leftist politics—atypical of rural America. On a highway overpass, I saw, scrawled out with spray paint, in big red letters, "Jobs Not Bombs." Much of it is the legacy of the German and Norwegian socialists (or damn-near socialists) that first settled the area. The state Democratic party is still known as the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor_Party after a merger with the Farmer-Labor party in 1944.

As a whole, the trip was a nice escape. Life in California (or contemporary America, for that matter) can be overstimulating, frenetic and frenzied. Visiting Minnesota allowed me to take a step back, unplug, and revisit a previous chapter of my life.
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