This was my first caucus. It may be my last.

In California we held primaries and I recall always thinking how patriotically engaging it must be to actively participate in the democratic process like some states do. I was raised by a mother who would be glued to TV senate committee hearings on public access stations, being able to tell you the actual number of each bill and recite how each senator voted. So naturally, when it came to caucusing, I envisioned citizens gathering to debate and discuss candidates and issues, taking part in their own governance, standing tall and making our founding fathers proud.

When I asked my new Minnesota friends what to expect at my first caucus, I not only received confusing and unenthusiastic answers, but more often then not, my query was met with a sort of shuffling silence. Puzzling. And most of the answers were in the realm of, “Well, it depends. It’s always different.” And asked to elucidate, they shuffled some more and usually changed the subject.

The month prior I had discovered that a meeting I was slated to attend on caucus night would conflict and I raised my hand and suggested that obviously we would need to re-schedule so it wouldn’t interfere. Silence and blank stares. “Who’s going to caucus?” I asked with naïve enthusiasm, raising my hand to indicate I was a good Minnesotan now and on-board. Silence. “Isn’t anyone going to the caucus?” I stammered to the some 60 people in the room.

The actual experience when I arrived at caucus night was even more puzzling and alarming – a deafening, chaotic mass of citizens who didn’t know their ward numbers, struggled to find someone in charge, pushing through hordes of other confused souls, struggling over pen-splotched maps of the city, crowding around tables in a disordered hall of pandemonium. And finally, someone who yelled over the din and pointed in one direction and we pushed through and somehow were given a little slip of paper on which to check-off our candidate of choice and write down our contact information.

We lingered for a time and eventually, I think, someone roared out “welcomings” and platitudes from a microphone and I’m told that later there might have been voting for party workers and even perhaps some resolutions, but by then we were home badly needing a libation.

I don’t know if I was gratified, mollified or shocked to see the official editorial, op-ed pieces and letters to the editor the next day in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It certainly justified my consternation.

“Minnesota’s current caucus system is no way to elect a president.”

“ –they aren’t party building exercises. They’re highly inconvenient elections.”

“ To be blunt: Chaos reigned.”

“ – a vague sense of failure. Not my first. Perhaps my last.”

And my favorite – “This is what I call the illusion of democracy.”

The editor of the Star-Trib explained that “Minnesota used a presidential primary for most of the first half of the 20th century, but it fell out of favor with leaders of both parties in the 1950’s and was abandoned in favor of caucuses. From the start, caucuses have been dogged by complaints that they are confusing, insider-dominated affairs that are insufficiently democratic. Requiring citizens to appear at a neighborhood gathering spot between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on a Tuesday in order to cast a ballot leaves too many people unable to attend. By comparison, polling places at a primary election would open at 7 a.m., not 7 p.m., and absentee voting would be available.” And furthermore – “A state that prides itself on well-run elections and a high level of civic participation can do much better.”

The next day the governor concurred and made the suggestion that Minnesota return to a primary system. (Of course he has been advocating for clean water buffer zones too, and we know how far that has gone!)

I, for one, stand with the governor on both accounts. But while I’m on the subject of California versus Minnesota politics, I might as well go out on a limb and vent about the other issue that has confounded me since we moved here over 5 years ago. And this with the caveat that soooo much about our new state wins highest rating and gold stars. Minnesota courtesy and kindness, for instance. The breathless expanse of prairie and sky. The wealth of artistry and creative talent. Not to mention that we have the best and biggest bunch of friends of anywhere we have ever lived.

But really, folks (and my new friends have heard my rant) – however are you able to vote responsibly without a prior-to-the-election sample ballot? In my home state it came in the mail weeks before, a many page brochure, printed with a list of candidates (from politician and judge down to school board and dog-catcher) and propositions, all with bios and/or background followed by pro and con endorsements (and why) from prominent organizations. Sometimes followed by pros to the cons.

I always went to the polls with my dog-eared, much perused, note scribbled sample ballot in hand. And voted, only after doing my homework. But for my first election in Minnesota a few years ago, I arrived and discovered that there were propositions and lesser elect-tees that I didn’t even know existed. When I sputtered and queried friends, they said I might have found some information in the local newspapers. Or if I had gone to the party headquarters. Or?

Is this a case of Minnesota Nice, then? Not wanting to be too pushy? Let me work it out on my own? Don’t sit in the first rows at church because it might seem like I think I’m special? Not to suggest that my home state has all the answers, does elections proud, and doesn’t have room for improvement. But on these two issues – primaries over caucusing, and substantial pre-voting information – California offers a stellar guideline.

So I say, let’s all be special and be informed. Let’s help the national election results by making it easier for more voters to be counted and therefore influence the final choice of our national candidate. Let’s bring back the Primary! And please – give us a sample ballot! Make my Mom proud of HER home state.

Posted in COMMUNITY, DISILLUSION, education, minnesota life, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment



In a recent New Yorker Magazine, Nathan Heller nailed it in his article, “Air Head” when he wrote – “The rush is skittish and improbable. A freighted mass of metal rattling down the runway gains a sudden burst of speed and, in a small, miraculous gasp, loses its weight, rises, and soars, enacting careful turns and radio co-ordinations that accrue toward effortlessness. On the ground, on landing, it’s again a metal hulk; the metamorphosis reverses itself. A part of me is sure I’ll die at every takeoff.”

Skittish? Improbable? Mass of metal? I just want to stick my fingers in my ears at this point and blabber “lalalalalalala.”

I am, in fact, an aero-phobe these days, one of the terrified masses who knows in their heart of hearts that a “frightened mass of metal” is no way to get from point A to point B. I become, just at the thought of air travel, a trembling and sorry lump of terror. And it wasn’t always so. There was a time, many years ago, when the thrill of flying seemed the height of sophistication. When any adventure into the wild blue yonder just might uncover the Holy Grail. Or turn me into a Hollywood star. Certainly broaden my horizons. Lead to romance. Or in the least, provide one darn good adventure.

I was the girl who idolized Osa Johnson, the photographer/explorer who fearlessly followed her husband, Martin, traversing around the world at a time when Africa was still the “dark continent” and Borneo a new unknown, taking photographs of tribal chiefs and primitive beasts in the jungle. Facts: Osa and Martin often traveled about in small aeroplanes. I have often said that I grew up “wanting to be her.” My childhood copy of “I Married Adventure” is worn and tattered with love. And yet, on a lecture tour back in the United States, it was a small plane crash that killed Martin and injured Osa.

And even after that infusion of cold reality, I maintained throughout my young adulthood, an undeniable thrill whenever I was offered the possibility of aerial adventure. And so, when did that all change?

Sitting in the Denver airport over the holidays this past season, after running breathlessly to make my connecting flight only to discover that the plane was cancelled and needed repairs, I found myself sitting in the boarding area between two ladies close to my age (both flying to Fargo), who I suspected were also aghast at the process of flying. “Ah, do you remember,” I asked, turning towards first one and then the other, “when we used to Dress Up to fly?”

Long before we eventually boarded the alternate plane hours later, we bonded, became new best friends, which can happen in times of extreme stress, and shared similar memories and paths. Yes – we remembered donning our Sunday best. Yes – we had anticipated the gourmet meals, complimentary drinks, pillows and peanuts. Yes – in those days we felt coddled and safe and first class all the way. Back then.

What has happened and why these current cattle-calls? “There’s no space for my knees!” “My bag won’t fit!” And you have no other choice but to trust your chances on the “metal hulk” in the sky-flyway. Is it wrapped up in Wall Street, the oft-proposed bully and baddie of all current economic travails, where profit trumps comfort? Is it because airlines have simply become a complex system bent on creating transportation for the masses and they see no other option?

And that’s not even before you get there – up in the air.

What I didn’t mention was that my flight, my first flight in this dreadful journey, had begun two days before when I arrived at LAX in the early morning, only to stand in the check-out line for a goodly amount of time, only to hear that my plane was not able to fly because the crew had not been able to wend their way through the airwaves. They were stuck because of bad weather in Houston, or Dallas, or somewhere east of us. Sorry. Please re-schedule.

The line to re-schedule took over three hours. The good news was that I then bonded with stranded flight mates. We shared our stories, attempted to sublimate our fears and irritations, resorted to laughter at our provenance, and outwardly persevered.

When I finally reached the counter, it was clear that I would not be flying that day but be rescheduled back and forth along the Los Angeles freeway and return very early the next morning to begin the whole process once again. You can bet that I was thinking at that moment that given petrol and a frightened mass of metal, like Icarus, man was not meant to fly.

I am home now. Still shuddering at my stressful and unpleasant journey. But today I also marveled at photos someone posted on Facebook of the massive flocks of snow geese who are currently wending their way north.

They look quite grand in the picture, powerful in their multitude, awesome and magnificent. And yet, I wonder what the survival rate is for the long and arduous journey, given hunters, a daily need for food and water, and the general stress of the cross-country trek. Their version, one might think, harkening back to words in Nathan Heller’s article, of “snarled security lines … day-old chibatta sandwiches … suspended screens that seem to play only disaster news …more queues … panic and lift …skittish and improbable”.

Yet it is their provenance to live a life of migration, circumventing the seasons. Strangely enough, for all my reticence and fear, it is undeniable that I chose the snow goose as a writer’s symbol of sorts. I have previously acknowledged that the raven is my special totem creature. And to be honest, I think I often secretly dream of the thrill, admire what must be that rush at lift off, a whoosh of air, the exhilaration, beauty and majesty of a flight of angels.

Is it possible, then, that what we fear most, encourages us to soar?


Posted in Birds, introspection, Uncategorized, Wild Life, writing | 3 Comments



I grew up with a father and a godfather who both “went to sea” – chief engineer and captain, Norwegians who broke away from the farm and sought the greater world. I was an only child and only godchild who then reaped the bounty of the main, recipient of wondrous treasures from their journeys abroad.

I still treasure the painted maracas from South America; the golden necklace representing the Southern Cross in the Antarctic sky; a desk set from India with small carved elephants of teak adorning the ink wells; and my silver Solje pin, which was traditionally worn on the native costume in Norway, and not only represented the Midnight Sun, but was guaranteed to protect me from trolls and other dangers.

There were many more presents from their travels, but my favorite, most dear to my heart, was Jocko. I first met him on one of the occasions when Mother and I met Daddy’s ship at the dock and the excitement of seeing my father after his long sea journey was suddenly complicated by his hug which was followed by having him thrust a strange, furry creature into my arms.

Jocko, as I eventually named him, was a stuffed koala bear from Australia, who was actually (I was later informed) made of kangaroo fur and not koala, but smelling a bit of exotic wild animal and stuffed with hay. You might understand why my first encounter was tinged with a bit of repulsion and even fear.

How it was that the transition so quickly turned to undeniable love, I don’t recall. I simply remember that within hours he became my dearest companion and I not only insisted on sleeping with him in spite of his angular, hard stuffing and still-wild scent, but I took him along with me wherever I went – to fancy restaurants in the big city, to the local park to swing, to neighborhood picnics, and even to Sunday School.


I felt, and still feel, blessed with the bounty of love and treasures I received as a child. One special memento from Norman Erikssen, my godfather, was a box of carved ivory and tortoise shell (both endangered, illegal substances, and rightfully so, now), but so lovely, delicate and exotic. It is a magic box, a cache of wonder for a seven year old to secret away elements of love and enchantment.

Over the years it has housed many pieces of my heart. At times there were magical sea shells, found along my home stretch of beach; imaginary incantations inscribed upon magnolia leaves, a mumbo-jumbo crystal talisman, or even a treasured note from “the boy.”

Today, among other treasures, it contains my Grammy Marie’s wedding ring; one of the smaller angels from my mother’s collection; a pin that says “carpe diem” (my special magic words); a small envelope which reads in pencil – “Dear tooth fairy if your real or not, thank you for the money, Love Sean.” (I can feel the teensy tooth of our grandson through the envelope); my father’s medals from the war along with a postcard of a Delta Airplane with the message – “ My Dear Diane, I am up over the clouds bound for New Orleans. I will send you another card when we land, Love Daddy.” Particularly poignant because it was dated November 7th, 1946 and I never got that second postcard. He died in a hospital in New Orleans on December 23rd, two days before Christmas. There is a Mother’s Day poem written in grade school by my daughter, Noelle, the cover hand-stitched in a flowery fabric and beginning – “The flush of the garden is in the presence of you and I,” and going on to elucidate (way beyond her years) all of the mystical aspects of life that the two of us share and hold so dear. And there is the first letter that my husband wrote to me after our first date at Hungry Jose’s restaurant in our hometown of Long Beach, California, forty years ago. And if you were to read the letter, you might say – “who wouldn’t fall in love and pick this guy!”

And finally, from my box of treasures – one of many pen and ink gift tags – this one of Nick Chopper, the Tin Man of Oz which perfectly states – “Dearest Mum – Remember that ‘A heart is not judged by how much you love, but how much you are loved by others.” Adoringly, your son, Kevin.”

Thanks to the Wizard. And Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all.


Posted in Family, favorite things, In Memorium, memories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Back in April of 2011 after embracing the idea of moving from California to Minnesota, there were people, places and things that I knew would be deeply missed. Our children and grandchildren, of course. And in the over-all scheme of life – my lovingly tended garden with it’s over 50 heirloom roses; the tantalizing and heady scent of the Pacific Ocean; the comforting familiarity of coastal locales and friends covering two lifetimes. To name a few.

There was also my dream job at a resort in Big Sur which had been judged one of the best small inns in the world by Conde Nash Travel and Guide. The guest rooms included tree houses, jutting up at odd angles among the redwood trees, rooms which were sculpted round and woodsy so it felt like entering the heart and soul of a forest giant, and others bermed into the edge of the cliff with grass and flowers on the roof and a glorious deck hanging precipitously over the ocean.

Our retail business was in a Quonset hut, once the tack room for the ranch, now set alone, down a woodland path in a lower grove. I said at the time that I would deeply miss the creativity of the little shop, but even more I would grieve for the loss of a friend who had regularly visited me there for the past four years.

He first came visiting as I ate my lunch in our storage/shipping building, strutting and waddling as he ventured closer, dipping his head from side to side yet looking full on, one eye at a time. I had previously heard him high up in the redwood tree making that distinctive, almost electronically resonant – “Krronk, Krronk.” He also cawed like a crow, but deeper. And “clicked.”

I shared my apple and he began to visit every day at lunchtime, sometimes waddling just inside the front door to the shop, peeking to see if I was there. We soon moved on to unshelled peanuts, which were an immediate hit, and it became our routine. If he arrived early I would say, “You’re an early bird. It isn’t lunchtime yet.” And he would perch in the baby oak tree across from the front door and wait. We began a ritual and it was always the same. I would feed him the peanuts on the top of the fence post across the parking lot, signaling that it was time by making what I thought might approximate the raven clicking noise and he would fly to the higher gatepost and wait for me to deposit the peanuts. Our interaction was amazing and I chose to believe that it went beyond food.

I was recently reminded of my special communication with this wild creature when I read a piece in the latest edition (January-February 2016) of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine where Chet Myers writes about corvids (crows and ravens), explaining their unusual intelligence and ability to relate and recognize individual human beings.

“Sometimes ravens give voice to their memories. Because of the physical structure of their multiple larynxes, ravens and crows are capable of wide-ranging vocalizations,” he writes. “A raven residing in a national park campground learned to imitate the gurgling sound of a flushing toilet, much to the consternation of visiting campers. Naturalist David Barash was studying marmots in Olympic National Park in an area where some blasting excavation had taken place three weeks earlier. One day he heard a voice calling out ‘Three, two, one,’ followed by the sound of a small explosion. He nervously called out, ‘Who’s there?’ Then he spotted the noise-maker – a raven in a nearby tree.”

I think often about my raven friend. I would like to think he remembers me.


Posted in Birds, enchantment, favorite things, friendship, memories, Uncategorized, wild animals | 3 Comments



We have a “movie club” with friends, going as a group to chosen, anticipated films and returning to someone’s house afterwards for food, drink, comaraderie and conversation. Unfortunately in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, there are limited choices at the Westridge Mall Cineplex. They mostly show films for twelve year olds and younger, or undiscerning, not-so-bright adults.

Hence the jubilation when something of note comes to the local theater.

Recently we gathered in wintry weather wear to view “Revenent” – a film by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inaarritu. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate. Properly swathed in sub-zero appropriate garments, we filed into the theater only to be subjected to over two hours of on-screen frozen torment. It’s not like we wouldn’t rather have been cozily immersed in a tale set in Micronesia – palm trees, tropic breezes, southern sun. But, no. We acclimated to Cineplex temperature by slowly, and with trepidation, abandoning our scarfs and parkas.

In one notable scene, Leonardo (as trapper guide, Hugh Glass), in order to keep warm, slits open the belly of a dead horse, tugs out the guts, strips naked, and crawls inside. Having just braved the elements ourselves from the car to the movie theater, it wasn’t difficult to imagine that kind of wintry hell. And wondering why we hadn’t crawled into and clung to any heat left under the hood against the engine, instead of paying good money to have the hell of feeling frozen approximated in film.

One of the reviews for the already much lauded movie, refers to it as “a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world.” Another calls it “the secularized state of a medieval saint tormented by visions.” And critic, Roger Ebbert, concludes – “It hangs in the back of your mind like the best classic parables of man vs. nature.”

Not to be unnaturally dramatic, but I must admit that our fifth winter in Minnesota has been feeling all too much lately like a brutal hymn to the natural world and a classic parable of man vs. nature. Slogging down the drive to retrieve the morning paper. Struggling to make the daily rounds to refill the bird feeders. Scrapping ice from the INSIDE of the car windows.

How in the world did my great grandfather, Jorgen Jacob Johannesen, manage to survive his first winter in this land by digging a hole in the ground next to the bank of the Red River? I guess, better than in the belly of one of his oxen, Pope or Spot. But watching the film made me think of him.

The remains of his headstone, which I retrieved from the Hemnes
Cemetary (along with that of great-grandma Elin and their two daughters who died at much too young an age, Jorgense and Randine), now rests beneath my glorious Siberian Elm. (A cousin’s son had their weather-worm memorials re-modeled “in style” a few years ago).

Coming from the tropical beaches of the Pacific, having spent all my life immersed in trade winds, sand and surf, I find it more than a stretch of imagination to fully appreciate what great grandpa Jorgen, all the hearty northern pioneers, and even, Leonardo DiCaprio in the making of this film, must have endured.

And I suspect, just like director Inarritu’s previous film, “Birdman” (which I found creatively enchanting), “Revenent” will be snatching up numerous awards this year. So, yes. Wear your mittens and wooly scarf. But go see it.

Will we be dreaming of southerly climes this chilly Minnesota winter? Yes, of course. Will we be re-thinking this retirement re-location? I suppose not. After all, we decided we would hereafter be know as “reverse” Snow-birds and, like Jorgan Jacob Johannesen, settle down in this new land in the north.

And there is always the thrill of waiting for my great grandma Elin’s peony to bloom again in the spring. We carefully dug up a piece from the Hemnes cemetery and replanted it near the old memorial markers in our garden. This lovely old flower would never survive and live on in California. It needs the wintry chill to thrive and bloom again.


Posted in Family, Gardening, In Memorium, minnesota life, SNOW, Uncategorized, WEATHER | 2 Comments




DSCN5164The panacea for winter, drear and cold, is most often suggested as a snuggly day, plumped upon down pillows in a cozy window seat, sipping Lapsang Souchong tea from Grammy’s Haviland teacup, all the while poring happily over a panoply of seed and garden catalogues.

Sounds like fun, I heartily agree. However, winter is also the time I pay my dues and suffer the consequences of my horticultural impatience. Hopefully I have kept notes on last seasons beds along with a graph of sorts, recording what was planted and, most importantly – where? In my haste and impatience I have often filled every inch with greenery, creating a pleasing tableau at the moment with little appreciation about eventual spread, height, and reseeding tendencies.



In California the winter garden could have a certain poignancy, a beauty in sparcity, but it was far easier to look at the underlying structure and reassess the bones. The general design still showed, even when the perennials had died back or taken a seasonal break. Here in Minnesota the piles of snow have covered not only the beds, but my memory, I fear.


That’s where the notes and graph paper come into importance, marking the mistakes and (on fresh paper) planning the new season. And hopefully I have taken lots of photos for “compare and contrast”. After that initial plan, it will be spring before the emerging successes and mistakes pop up and can be celebrated, tossed into the compost pile, or potted up and shared with friends. And successful reseedings are happy free-bees that can be sprinkled throughout the beds.

In the meantime, when I rifled through my folders and notes from last year I came across some forgotten how-to’s and inspirations.

As a general rule of thumb guide: Plant the majority of perennials 1 to 1 ½ feet apart. Plant small “front-liners half that distance. Plant large plants and small trees 4 feet apart. And of course, consider shape and color, flowering time, light availability and soil needs. That’s a given.


Most importantly, I need to keep reminding myself that when spring finally comes I will be too busy finding homes for the new darlings I discovered at the local nursery, overwhelmed at the necessity to “get on with it” and too deep into a heightened planting frenzy to be garden-rational. That’s precisely why I need to be extra vigilant in the winter and do my planning in the down time.

Two other thoughts I jotted down in my garden notes when I was digging for last year’s plan (don’t know the authors) gave me some horticultural sustenance – “Few of us manage a winning combination more than occasionally, and by accident more often than we realize.” Thank you for that!

And – “You might have a well conceived plan, but it will need constant tinkering.” Yes, that’s comforting. Sort of.

Don’t forget to work on the plan in the “down time.” While you’re sitting and sipping in your cozy spot, enjoy your seed catalogs, but always remember the bones!


Posted in favorite things, Gardening, SNOW, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


“Just like riding a bike,” they say. “Begin again, anywhere, don’t over-think, jump on, let go, and you’ll remember.”

What they actually mean is “Stop procrastinating, get out of your writer’s funk, no choking, and no more excuses!”

And who are “they?”

Just the nagging voices in my head. The nay-saying, cyber-destructive, accusatory, scary little negative pieces of doubt that once again have brought me to a big black screeching halt in creativity.

And so, if this is a battle between “me” and “me” – one perfectly logical, if befuddled, and one steeped in nonsensical fear – how do I proceed? I’m guessing and hoping at this point that there might be, must be, yet another dimension of “me” that needs to and can intercede and yell STOP!

So what, if I don’t write one scintillating sentence? What harm if I babble and forget the primary rule – Cut, Cut, Cut? Why dither about form and function? Or be stymied when eluded by (gulp) a brilliant turn of phrase.

At first glance it might seem that the logical “me” would be represented by adult Diane and the fear-based nonsense would come from my child. But not so. When I think of the analogy I began with, I immediately remember my child-self who knew no fear on roller skates (never mind a bike), flying down the sidewalk, clickety-click, backwards figure eighting in the alley, racing with glee, soaring unafraid and free.

This blasted anomaly, this Writers Block which descends with withering fear from time to time, is stupid and unnecessary. And definitely part of adult Diane. I know that. But oh so difficult to break through.

I happened to click on the Lake Region Writer’s Network Facebook page today and this was the first thing I stumbled upon – “If I waited for perfection I would never write a word.”

Thank you, Margaret Atwood. Little Diane is strapping on her skates, racing forward, tucking the skate key into her pocket.


Posted in Uncategorized, writing | 1 Comment