After filing about 760 consecutive weekly columns, it is necessary for me to take a hiatus — not because I am tired, or have run out of wind. No, I am off on a new venture which requires me to suspend the column for a time. In 2011, I was granted a two-year Bush Fellowship to study eldercare.
Another baseball season begins with nobody, including myself, expecting much of our Minnesota Twins. The satellite dish company sends a nice letter every three days urging me to hook the dish back up for a reduced rate. If they had given me the same reduced rate last August, I might have made it through the Twins dismal season without disconnecting. But two dollars a day to watch a team which wins once every three days? Not a bargain. This year, I am going to wait until the Twins put together a winning streak before reconnecting.
Eleven years ago, I spent a September in Europe. First, I took the train around England. The countryside is “lovely,” as the Brits say, groomed and prim. Then I went across France, Swit-zerland and Italy. I stayed in cities, but enjoyed the farm country — at least when those bullet trains slowed down enough for me to see the scenery. The train over the Alps, to my relief, moved at a crawl. Plenty of views of Swiss cows, big bells clanking, grazing the most beautiful meadows on earth, mooing, “the hills are alive…” Then, out of the blue, I got homesick. Bad.
If ever there was a winter to miss, this was the one. Arriving home the second week of March means I get to experience a little of the fun, anyway. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Do I miss anything at all about a northern Minnesota winter? Open questions, both. However, this trip home featured a lucky stop which made the arrival back in cold country much easier. That stop was at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyo.
The American West is vast and varied, as I am reminded annually when I trek across the entire expanse from southwest to northeast on the way back home to reality. The weather forecast determines the route, and this time storms predicted for the West Coast made me think the mountain passes might be clogged with white stuff. Best to cling to the Mexican border on I-8 out of San Diego, I decided. Before pulling out of Carlsbad, I took one last look at the ever-changing ocean. In blinding horizontal rain, I walked to the beach to see the big rollers.
It’s not just the kids. Last week, I observed a retired Midwestern gentleman walking his golden retriever near the beach. I heard his phone beep. A text message had arrived. He pulled off the sidewalk, dug out his phone, and sat on a bench. As he read the message, he absent-mindedly draped the end of the leash over his leg. As he struggled to tap out a message on the screen with his dairy-farmer thumbs, the leash fell to the ground. The young retriever, still curious about the world, sensed freedom and quietly sniffed his way down the nearby hedge. The man didn’t notice.
Downtown San Diego is so clean it sparkles. Its crown jewel is Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre complex which includes 15 museums, at least 18 gardens, and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. Balboa Park got its start in 1835 under Mexican rule when local officials, honoring a Spanish civic tradition, set aside a large plot of land as a common area for the citizens of San Diego, who at the time numbered only in the 100s. The park took its present form when it played host to a world-wide exhibition in 1915 to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal.
We in the Upper Midwest see Southern California through the lens of television, and frankly, what we often see are a bunch of flakes. On the ground in Southern California, the reality is, yes, people here are unleashed from the constraints we feel back home. And good for them. I think it has to do with the proximity to the beach. Think about how people act on July 4 at the lake. Multiply that by 365, and you have Southern California. Hundreds of miles of beach. Millions living within a stone’s throw of sand, sun and rolling waves. The Grand Canyon is grand.
Yes, a person can get homesick every now and then when gone south for the winter. But there is a cure: call home. Doesn’t matter who. Just call any number in the 218 or 701 area code. Listen to the desperation, the depression, the rage on the other end. Feel the subzero cold pour through the speaker of the phone. Feel the desire to go home evaporate. Rents skyrocket in Tucson in February, so I moved onward to the south California coast to see what has drawn twenty million others to the area. At random, I chose the coastal village of Carlsbad between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Businesses in Watertown, Wis., are working to make life easier for a vulnerable portion of their population: those with dementia. Unfortunately, a diagnosis of dementia often results in shame and stigma. It should not. Those diagnosed early in the progress of the disease can live productive and happy lives for years with just a little help. For the community to help, they need to know how. Watertown is training those in retail to better serve those with dementia. An example: Servers at restaurants often bury you with a blizzard of choices.