Six O’clock Song


These days I wake at 6 a.m., specifically to take my dog Sophie for a walk. There are two reasons for going this early; summer heat and Sophie’s intense dislike of other dogs. She had this lovely trait passed down to her by her mother, a full blood Malamute. Her father, a full blood Husky gave her unbounded energy and a curiosity of nearly everything. Together these things make her a formidable dog. She’s beautiful, with streaks of gray, black, and white and Sable around her ears and nearly white eyes. At 115 pounds with her outgoing personality she scares most people who don’t know her. I’ve never been able to teach her not to jump up to look you in the eyes. Mostly, when she does that it’s to smell your breath to see if you’ve eaten anything good recently. Her appetite matches her energy.

This morning we head West and cross Highway 3, two blocks from our house. Traffic is not a problem at this time of day, only a car or two to watch out for. In another half hour, it’ll be rush minute in our rural town. We live in Northfield, Minnesota, a town of about 20,000 people 40 miles south of the Twin Cities. Northfield’s claims to fame are the ending of the career of The Jesse James gang, and Carleton and St. Olaf colleges. We moved here two years ago when we bought my mom’s house, the very house I grew up in. Since that time my mom and my wife have both died, and now it’s just me and Sophie. Just when you think you know what you’re doing, life has a way of telling you you’re wrong. Onward and upward, they say.

Sophie and I head for the path that runs between the dog park and the Cannon river. We walk different paths nearly every day so Sophie has new things to sniff at and the scenery change keeps us both interested. The river has been high all summer. We’ve had copious amounts of rain this year and the trees and foliage along the river is lush and green. Various wildflowers poke their heads up here and there and wildlife is abundant. There are plenty of cottontail rabbits and squirrels to keep Sophie interested. If they get too close she lunges, jerking my arm and shoulder with her sled pulling power. At 7 1/2 years old she’s lost none of her youthful exuberance. Me, on the other hand, at 62, I wonder how much longer I can hold her back. We cross the river on the walk bridge and I notice the water level has come down some. The part of the path that has been flooded for much of the summer is visible again, now covered in mud. We head past the Kwik Trip and Walgreens and cross Highway 19. Crossing Highway 3 again, we walk along Ames park. The park is where the carnival for the Defeat of Jesse James Days sets up. The rest of the year it’s empty. Inhabited by Canada geese whose crap is everywhere, it’s not a popular park. The geese, more wary than ducks start running for the river the moment they see us. If dogs can smile, then Sophie is smiling, thinking she’s successfully run off all the geese. Another job well done.

Ducks on the other hand, are not so easily scared away as the geese are. We have several Mallard families living along the river and some days they barely get out of Sophie,s reach. Then they quack indignantly as if to say, this is our park buddy, leave us be! Among the Mallards there are at least 3 pure white ones. The internet tells me this is the result of wild Mallards breeding with domestic ducks. Another page said that most domestic ducks are Mallards, bred for certain traits, like the plain white color so these could be escapees. Who knows. With the considerable rainfall we’ve had this summer part of Riverside park has become a wetland. There has been permanent water in a large swath of it and the city has not mowed it. The ducks love it and this is another park that doesn’t see much use. I’m all in favor of the wetland, I hope it stays.

This morning we walk past Ames mill. Construction on the mill began in 1856 and was owned by John W. North, the founder of Northfield. In 1917 the Campbell’s cereal company bought the mill and the company wanted to make a hot breakfast cereal that would be different from the cream of wheat and farina cereals of the day. Adding Malt to wheat cereal produced Malt O Meal and the Ames mill in Northfield is the only place in the entire world where hot Malt O Meal cereal is made. Another claim to fame. The Malt O Meal company produces some of the most wonderful smells in the air. It reminds you of the smells of baking cookies or breads. When they’re making chocolate cereal, it’s even better. Crossing the river at Bridge square, we take a break on a park bench. On Bridge Square is a large fountain donated in part by the Sheldahl company, another Northfield claim to fame. Sheldahl, originally spelled Schjeldahl, the founders last name, has made aerospace products including material for the Apollo lunar landers and the Space Shuttle program as well as early satellites and many military applications.

Leaving Bridge Square we head down Water street just in time to see a fat Raccoon waddle up the street. Seeing us, it heads for a clump of thick bushes and stays there. Sophie will chase any animal that runs and they all run. There is a leash ordinance in Northfield and I’m a strict follower. I wish everyone felt that way. One evening Sophie and I were sitting on the deck enjoying the evening air when a family came walking with their dog. The dog was not on a leash. It charged into our yard right at Sophie who was on her cable. Sophie wasn’t having any of that and proceeded to tear up the dog pretty good. The next day a policeman stopped to ask for my version of the story. Apparently the family had to take their dog to the vet for stitches. I felt badly for the dog but my dog was tied up so we didn’t get into any trouble. Hopefully they will use a leash from now on.

We work our way back through the park and finally arrive at home. Before we moved here we lived on a lake near Faribault, a town about 12 miles away. My wife worked overnights and I would be dressed in my scrubs and ready for work when she came home. She felt safer with a big dog in the house while she slept. Ann would play really rough with Sophie, who loved it, growling and barking and rolling around. She misses that, I’m sure. After a big drink and some breakfast, Sophie settles down for a nap and I head to the computer for some writing. My being retired now, Sophie gets all the attention she needs. As I write this the heat of the day is rising. The temperature will approach 90 degrees today with the dewpoint at about 70, which is considered tropical. Today, we’ll stay inside.

Life moves in strange circles. Everything changes. In the 7 1/2 years that I’ve had Sophie, there have only been a handful of times that we’ve missed our morning walk. And yet each time we go something is always different. Trees, grass, shrubs, and wildlife are always there. We pass the occasional jogger or bicycler. Sometimes there’s a beaver along the river or like this morning, a raccoon. Ducks and Geese all summer and rain or snow in Winter. I enjoy our walks as much as she does, for the solitude and the scenery. Birds of various kinds, including eagles and hawks are sometimes seen and all these are indicators that our environment, at least for now, is still in good shape. We’ll keep walking for as long as we can and eventually, that will change. As with the seasons, lives change too. We will take it as it comes and adapt, for what other choice do we have?

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Northfield, Minnesota

From 1998 until 2017 my wife Ann and I lived in the Faribault, Minnesota area, the last six years of which were spent in an old farm house on a lake surrounded by corn fields. In November 2016, Ann got sick and in December we found out she had Endometrial Metastatic Cancer. She died in July, 2017 after a heroic battle. To me she is an example of a very strong and brave woman. Born and raised on a farm near Kilkenny, Minnesota, she had red hair, blue eyes, and she was Irish and German. There were times when she felt hopeless fighting cancer, but for the most part she was brave throughout. She didn’t let it get in the way of family and friends. I think about her every day.

In May of 2017 we bought my mom’s house in Northfield, Minnesota. Only about 18 miles from our lake house, Northfield is a different world. This is the house I grew up in. Built in 1940, my folks bought the house on the G.I. Bill, or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, in 1956, just two weeks before I was born. It has been added on to and remodeled several times over the years, most of the work being done by my dad. We bought the house in May, Ann went into the hospital in June and never came home. We only had a month to enjoy the house together before she became to0 sick to be home.

The months since Ann died have been kind of foggy but I think I’m finally starting to come out of it. In December I applied for a position on the Northfield Human Rights Commission. The mayor appointed me to the commission but after one meeting I realized that it was too much, too soon. So with the mayors blessing I turned down the appointment and am now concentrating on living one day at a time. It seems to be working. I spend quite a bit of time alone and it’s said that when you’re grieving that’s not a good thing. But for me, it’s alright. I get along with myself just fine. As a kid I was just as happy playing by myself as I was with friends. I spend time with my children and grand children. It’s good for us all to be together, to do things as a family. So that’s the back story. You are now caught up with me.

In 1956 the population of Northfield was about 8000. Today its over 20,000 so there has been steady growth over the years. The town is only about 30 or so miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. There are two world class colleges in Northfield. St. Olaf and Carleton. Each September Northfield celebrates the Defeat of Jesse James days. On September 7th, 1876, Jesse James and his gang were prevented from robbing the bank in Northfield, effectively ending their career as outlaws. It’s a huge celebration that attracts thousand to the town. (I hope this isn’t sounding like a tourism site!) Even though the population is over 20,000, Northfield is still a rural community. The entire city is surrounded by farms and fields. The downtown area has been maintained with 1800’s building fronts whenever possible. There are lots of unique shops and every Saturday there is a Riverwalk arts fair and farmers market downtown. Northfield is a community where people get out and do things. I love it here.

So now I’m spending time learning the bass guitar. I’ve been a drummer all my life and for the last twenty years have concentrated on hand percussion. But I’ve recently bought an electronic drum kit so I’m getting my chops back with that. For those of you who’ve read my blog over the years, I still have my insane dog, Sophie. Sophie is half Malamute, half Husky. And as I said, she’s insane. She’s six years old and still as frisky as a puppy. One hundred and ten pounds of frisky! We take a walk everyday along the beautiful pathways of Riverside park in Northfield. There is a lot of noise compared to living on a lake in the country but we’re getting used to it. The thing I miss most about living in the country is the quiet and the stars in the sky. It is such a mystical experience to stand outside at night with the Milky Way shining brightly in the sky and not hear a single sound. Just thinking about that gives me shivers. I want to give a big thanks to my long time readers. Thanks for sticking with me, And maybe I’ll gain some new readers along the way. More to come!