Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Perham, Minnesota

Friends: I have been dodging sugar beets along the road the last 150 miles fallen off trucks taking them to market. I haven't had to worry about being pelted by a beet falling off a truck though, as there is a temporary moratorium on the harvest with excessively hot temperatures in the 80s, twenty degrees higher than normal. The harvest is best when it gets down to freezing at night. The last two nights its been a balmy 58 degrees.

The moratorium put a young man rolling a cigarette I met outside the Carnegie library in Crookston temporarily on hiatus. He had bused in from Minneapolis, 300 miles away, for the work. He wasn't complaining though, as he was enjoying the quiet rural town of Crookston and its fine library and the movie theater across the street, the Grand, one of the oldest in the country, divided into two screens with $4 matinees and $5 evening features. The Carnegie building was now used as storage for the Historical Society. The new library was less than fifty feet away, but because the Carnegie was built on a bit of a rise, the new library could not have been added on to it.

Like most of these western Carnegies, "Carnegie" was engraved into the building along with the old style spelling of "Pvblic Library."  It was so traditional that the date of its construction, 1907, was accompanied with an "A.D.," though not so traditional as to give the date in roman numerals. The four-pillared building looked gallant sitting on its rise overlooking the small downtown. The concrete sides on the steps leading to its entrance were engraved with the mayor, the architect and contractor on one side and the library board on the other. It must have been a magnificent grand opening with all present.

The strong southerly winds gusting to 30 miles per hour have kept me under 70 miles the past two days. Yesterday was one of the few days in these travels where I didn't pass a town with a library. I was on a lightly traveled secondary road known as the "Prairie Passage" with towns of less than 1,000. Now that I'm in more fertile terrain there are more towns and roads to choose from. Its not as forested as I would like with much of the land under cultivation--sugar beets and soy beans and corn and wheat. The occasional clump of trees temporarily blocks the wind, allowing my speed to spurt from ten miles per hour to almost fifteen, but not for long. I didn't even average eleven miles per hour yesterday.

I camped in a clump of trees last night on the White Earth Indian Reservation about ten miles north of Detroit Lakes. The local radio station was fully devoted to the harvest, giving advice and even interviewing the owner of the local hardware store on what products he had to help. There were commercials for fertilizers and seeds and crop insurance and a flat tire repair service that would come directly to the fields. I have to cover my face when I pass a field where a tractor is at work stirring up the dirt and crop fragments.

Detroit Lakes was on my route as it had a Carnegie, my second of Minnesota's 66 Carnegies, fourteen  more than in all of Montana, North Dakato, Idado and Wyoming. This one was on level enough ground and on a corner lot large enough that it could accommodate an extensive expansion. The former entrance looking out onto the town's main street was now closed and barricaded by a chest-high hedge. The front facade of the prominent yellow brick building was engraved with "PVBLIC LIBRARY" and "CARNEGIE" below it. A band of white stone beneath the roof was ornately carved. It too was a most grand building town could be proud of.

Not only do I now have a choice of many roads to choose from, I also have a much wider choice of radio stations to listen to at night before I dive into my latest book, a biography of Napoleon, a book I picked up at a library along the way. At the entry of nearly every library I've visited is a shelf or two of books for sale, usually about fifty cents for the paperbacks and sometimes for free. Whether I need a book or not, I always check the selection, though there's rarely much for my tastes.

I was desperate enough early in the trip to give an Oprah book a read, "A Map of the Heart" by Jane Hamilton. Its the first time that I've knowingly read one of her recommendations. I couldn't resist a book with "map" in its title, even though the blurbs on the book jacket gave no indication what it was about, only that it had made the top ten list of several publications for book of the year in 1994.

The book turned into a very good read, even though it had nothing to do with maps. It was written as a first person narrative of a husband and wife who are making an attempt at farming in Wisconsin outside of Racine. A neighbor's two-year old daughter drowns in their pond and then the wife is accused of child molestation on her job as the grade school nurse. She can't meet bail so spends three months in jail. There the highlight of her day is the Oprah show. The book warranted recommendation by Oprah even without this added assist, though Oprah waited until 1999, five years after the book was written, when the movie of the book was released, to add it to her book club.

Hamilton's first book, "The Book of Ruth," was Oprah's third selection in 1996, the year she began her club. She is just one of several authors to have been chosen more than once. Toni Morrison has had four books chosen, the most of any author among Oprah's list of 65 books. Bill Cosby and William Faulkner have had three each.

Last night for the first time since I left Telluride I found an NPR station. I occasionally pulled in a CBC station when I was closer to the Canadian border, a virtual NPR station, likewise commercial free. But my book always takes precedence over the radio.

Later, George

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