Home Again

Brian happy in the NE Minneapolis Arts District
Brian happy in the NE Minneapolis Arts District

So, we made it. The long drive is over. The journey is complete. Or, depending on how you look at it, perhaps it’s just starting again in a new chapter.

We signed a year lease in Northeast Minneapolis, which was not even on our list six months ago. We were going to swing through and spend one night on our way to Duluth and points further east. But, as we learn again and again, sometimes the detours make the whole trip worthwhile.

It happened kinda like we thought it would. We had lots of brilliant ideas about all the places we were sure we’d fall in love with. Some we did (I’m looking in your general direction, Missoula) but when we examined the practicality of setting up a life, it was hard to conceive. Other places we checked off the list almost immediately because despite how good they looked on paper, they just didn’t feel right.

Everyone has had an opinion about how we were going to settle on this place to live and that has been hilarious and thought-provoking and at times tiresome to hear. Some were convinced that we’d “just know.” Others thought we’d find some practical reason that would make a place stand out from the rest–jobs or a great place to live. Others were sure we’d stumble upon a spot that was never on our list at all, but that we were smitten with. My dad was more pragmatic. He said he figured we’d probably find a place or two that met some or even most of our criteria and then we’d have to decide what we were willing to give up.

But one of the big lessons from this experience has been learning what we want versus what we thought we wanted. We (more specifically, I) wanted a smaller city, something that felt more accessible and friendly than the large metropolitan areas I’d grown used to living in. It didn’t take long to figure out that the downside of a small city with incredibly natural beauty is they not only lack diversity but the  valuation and basic awareness of diversity, inclusion and privilege, which is even more alarming. That seems like a damning sentiment, but a lot of small outdoorsy towns, while they revel in theoretical progressiveness, don’t have to think too hard about what that means in practice.  But as my brother in law patiently suggested, if you’re looking for diversity, the Mountain West is not the place to look.

I didn’t realize how important that diversity was to me until I didn’t have it. Talk about a perfect example of white privilege. I know and I’m more than a little embarrassed. But after seven or eight years in South St. Louis and a handful of years in South Seattle and my super diverse (in all ways) master’s programs, I appreciate how much I learn from being around people that aren’t like me–in all ways, different races, socio-economic classes, sexual preferences, ages, ethnicities and abilities.

I don’t have even the beginnings of an answer to the question of systemic racism in this country, but I do know that I’ve learned more from being around people that are dissimilar from me than when I surround myself with homogeny. I have been humbled and challenged by engaging and LISTENING to my friends and neighbors that are different from me. And if this week with my friends, family and community in Columbia, Missouri, watching the events at the University of Missouri (my alma mater) unfold has taught me anything it is that if everyone truly listened with empathy and genuine curiosity, we might see some change.

My perspective is very, very different than it was ten years ago, five years ago. I do believe that one way for us to move forward is to start living next to each other, to send our children to the same schools, to spend our leisure time together, to create a sense of fellowship. I heard someone being interviewed on the radio one day say “We work together and then all go back to our segregated neighborhoods, churches, etc. We don’t live together, socialize together, play together.” I think there is some truth to that. Brian and I feel really committed to racial equity. And if we are really going to walk our walk, living in a community that is over 90% white isn’t conscionable.

Please understand, I say all this not to judge anyone else for their lifestyle choices. Everyone has their own set of criteria and demands that dictate where they live. But we chose to go looking for a place that was the best fit for us, and that includes our lifestyle, our passions, our budget and last but definitely not least, our ideals.

Here we were, a couple of months in and  we were starting to worry that we were barking up the wrong tree.  I started feeling pretty nervous. And by nervous, I mean I was not sleeping at night, I was fretting away the day. I mean, we only get one shot at this and we don’t have a bottomless pot of gold, you know? And the idea that my practical lifestyle choices weren’t lining up with my conscience was incredibly troubling. So, what do you do?

We did the thing you do on a road trip when your realize you’ve made a wrong turn. You detour. We went to Minneapolis. We made some calls, sent some emails before we arrived. We did a lot of research. On paper, it looked pretty good. The city (particularly our neighborhood) is super arty (who knew how arty!), far more diverse than most places we’ve been and there have been policies enacted by the city and neighborhoods to thoughtfully and intentionally develop so as not to gentrify but instead to integrate. It was inexpensive, outdoorsy and active, but BIG. Like major metropolitan area big.

I was still prepared to get there and be like, meh. I waffled between getting my hopes sky-high and preparing to be unimpressed.

We were there for a week. Just a week. People keep laughing when I tell them that. Sometimes a couple of hours is all you need. We loved it from almost the moment we got out of the car.

It’s a blue collar city, so it was built around railroads and grain mills, and the immigrants that provided the workforce. The neighborhoods still reflect that. And, like I said, there is so much going on in the art and literary worlds, but it doesn’t feel high-handed or inaccessible, instead it feels like people want to open doors and engage.

People went out of their way to help us, to connect with us and then connect us to others. By day two or three our schedules were full of meetings and interviews and dinners and events. Our awesome Airbnb hosts, well-established ceramic and mixed media artists, were incredibly gracious and willing to have dinner and give us some pointers. We also have some pretty great friends there, so whew. And that’s when we decided to look at apartments.

So yeah, I guess it just felt right.

Yep, we were only there a week. And yes, it snows a lot and it’s really cold there. I mean, if one more person says this: “Minneapolis, really? Did you know how bad the winters are there?” I will stab forks in my ears. Do you think we don’t know geography? Or that we didn’t hear the forty-seven people before you when they told us about the weather in Minnesota in February? It snows. We know. As the Norwegian’s say “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” 

I asked Brian if he was nervous about making this decision. He just laughed. “We’ve made major life decisions based on far less.” Its true. We met, dated, moved in together and got married all within a calendar year. We up and moved across the country with far less preparation than this five months of research. Sure, maybe we won’t like it. But we run that risk with any place we decide to try out. This is the least risky gamble of them all, I’d say. And if it doesn’t work out, well, we’ve got plenty of other places we can head to instead.

But, honestly, none of them came close to what we found in Northeast Minneapolis.  We will for sure have a great neighborhood full of a variety of different folks, access to arts and culture (Books and Bars!)   lots of good beer to drink, more hot dish than we can possibly consume (hot dish happy hour anyone?) and a house with more bang for our buck. So, I’m going to do some long underwear shopping, invest in some flannel sheets, start drinking some whiskey and stock up on tea. Maybe we’ll take up ice fishing.

 

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Serendipity Found

There are places on earth that you just know have some metaphysical or cosmic or magnetic or geothermal  power. You can’t quite put your finger on the source, but you just feel it. My mom always talked about the ley lines or the lines around the earth and act as conductors of energy. These lines appear to produce, almost as if by magic, miraculous spaces and structures.20150811_120440

When I was in Ireland, people talked about this like it were common knowledge. One gentleman I met talked expansively about taking long “walkabouts through the hills along the lines” and I had to ask what he meant. He said, as if he were talking about something as benign as fruitcake, “why, the ley lines” and explained that when he was troubled these walks would calm him.

Andy and Liz own 23 acres of the northeastern tip of Nelson Island, BC. The island itself is some 30 miles long and is snuggled up to the Sunshine Coast. Andy and Liz’s land is literally like a cherry atop the island. They’ve built their sustainable, off the grid compound on a rocky, round, three-acre spit that is separated from the rest of the island at high tide.

There is something symbolic about that separation.

The drive from Gibsons, a quaint little tourist town just a ferry ride away from Vancouver, is 90 minutes. But as you wind north along the coast, pushing past the seaside vacation spots like Roberts Creek and Sechelt you find yourself surrounded by dense evergreen forests–and we’re talking forests so dense they seem to press the side of your car. The fangs of the mountains creep in the distance and yet every so often there is a glimpse of blue water–you are, in fact, still just a football field away from the ocean.

When we pulled past the sign for Egmont, our hosts’ designated meeting spot, I was pretty sure we’d taken a wrong turn. Egmont doesn’t seem to be made up of much more than the Marina & General Store and a community hall. As I was wandering around looking for a restroom, I stumbled upon these two suntanned folks with a mutt and I was immediately struck by how peaceful they seemed. Andy warmly shook my hand, pointed out their boat, named the Black Dave which was “suitably subversive,” we tossed the backpacks on, coaxed Emmett to join us and were whisked off across the inlet to a magical spot.

This spot– it’s so gorgeous you hardly know what you’ve stumbled upon until you cart your dog and 20150811_152126backpacks and bag full of beers  up the driftwood steps to the apex of the island where the yurt sits. From there you can survey the diamond studded water and lichen covered rocks, watch the salmon leap in giant silvery arcs, listen to the wind whisk through the massive pines and the seals slap the water with their bodies. Then, finally, you realize that you’ve never been so isolated and connected at the same time.

Perched just at the top of the island is the yurt, completely off the grid. The power is solar and wind generated. Andy and Liz harvest rainwater and utilize compostable toilets–for those that don’t know what that means, you don’t flush anything but waste and it is  later used as soil enrichment for the gardens. The goal is to leave as little trace on the environment as possible.  As I read the Airbnb description of the space I thought, yeah, sounds really good, eco friendly–cheers to that.

Leave no Trace.

Upon getting to know Andy and Liz we were inspired by the sense of responsibility they possess to caretake the land and leave as little human impact as possible. After consuming some of the most incredible pad Thai I’ve had in recent memory, Brian and I sipped drinks with Andy on the wraparound porch, waiting for the darkness to fall so we could watch the Perseid meteor shower. Andy talked about how they found themselves on the island. I was struck (nearly to tears, in fact) by the incredible thoughtfulness they gave to creating a home for themselves there. After years of owning the acreage and visiting via their wooden boat on the weekends, they finally decided to put in a dock. Andy gravely described how they shed tears–it was the first real impact they’d have on this place that they’d been entrusted to care for. This place that had been previously untouched by the human hand now would bear their mark.20150812_153831

They spent years with a watchful, caring eye trained on all the intricacies and vibrations of the island before building the yurt, the space that would be their home. They knew exactly where the sun would fall at certain times of the day, the wildflowers that would bloom at particular times of the year, and what the views looked like season by season. Only then, after bearing witness to the ebb and flow, did they begin to construct their home.

This compassionate spirit and the thoughtful, intentional devotion to the land is what make Andy and Liz so inspiring. Their space exudes this kindness of spirit.

It’s star-crossed, in the most wonderful way; the most pristine land and water you can imagine, coupled brilliantly with these incredibly thoughtful people. At the end of our stay, as we got into the car and pointed her southward, we both looked at each other with the same thought in our head. It was as if we’d stepped out of the wardrobe, out of Narnia and back into civilization. Something about the spirit of the island was lost. You can’t take the spirit with you; you leave that bit of yourself there on the island.

I wrote most of this blog while on the island, a bit while laying in a hammock and gazing across the cliffs, in my mind while floating in the Pacific Ocean (can we take a moment to marvel at how awesome it is to have the chance to swim in the Pacific as far north as British Columbia? I mean, that body of water is COLD) and in my journal while curled up on the deck with my glass of wine. I am so glad–I couldn’t have written it after leaving. That’s the power of this place.

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