My life has been a string of love affairs with place. As I’ve considered how to write about these places, I’ve been inspired by my friend Lauren, who is an excellent, thoughtful writer and blogs here. Lately she’s been writing postcards: brief lyrical essays accompanied by an image. I am intrigued by this idea, and have started thinking of the places I’ve loved in terms of a series of snapshots, which I define as image-ridden, slightly longer lyrical essays that tell some kind of story.
This series is also a shout-out to Alaska writing night folks. For those of you who don’t know about writing night, imagine you are sitting in a cozy RV, sipping a generous glass of red wine. Outside, cold rain patters on the roof and drips into the willows. A moose might wander by with a calf or two. Tonight, the theme of writing night is “snapshots,” interpreted loosely. We lean over our notebooks and write.
Snapshot #1 – Minnesota Winter
Many winters, the snow drifts and piles up while we sit in classrooms under buzzing flourescents and watch the dark sky out the windows. School often lets out early, and we straggle out, scrape off cars or pile into humid buses, and disappear along the road. Highway 19 connects Winthrop, Gibbon, and Fairfax, three points on a straight east-west line on the Minnesota state map. Fairfax is home, Gibbon is the drive-through town of only eight hundred people, and Winthrop is church and high school.
Dad teaches at the high school, so rather than sit on the bus with my peers, I often wait and catch a ride with him. In the winters it is dark outside by the time he locks the physics classroom with its curled yellow posters of the periodic table on the walls and its smell of dust and chemicals. We trudge out through feet of snow to the car.
This particular ride home, before pulling away from the curb outside the school, we have to break through the deep drifts around the wheel wells. The car rocks forward, backward, slides on the packed snow. We need momentum to break free.
With a whine of the engine and final spin of the tires, we lurch up and over the mound of snow and find the churned snow and deep tire tracks which indicate the road.
On the road out of town, it is dark all around . Snow particles race past broken beams of light. I want nothing more than to lift off, away from this straight edged road, to soar away from the tiny farms and patchwork fields, and see what else is out there. I imagine I am going into hyperspeed, that we fly past stars and ringed planets and long-armed galaxies and into the vastness of space.
WCCO lists off counties with winter storm warnings and school district closures. “Renville… Sibley… Brown… Nicollet… Le Seuer…” Everything around us is closed in by the storm.
The road is slick and ridged with sculpted drifts. We don’t meet any cars. We slow to forty-five, edge to the center where the lines flick by, barely visible. The car shudders as the tires hit the wind-packed drifts. The windows fog.
Several miles past Gibbon, the road disappears.
Before the searching headlights, all is snow, swept rounded shoulders and ambiguous humped elephant shapes. Two, three feet deep in places. No tire tracks show the way or give us anything to follow. The car bucks and rocks like a ship through the drifts. Thick snow falls, presses heavy and wet on the windshield. Dad slows the car to a crawl, then stops. He rolls the window down, cranes his head out. Flakes flutter in, fall in a lush layer on the car seat, on his corduroy pants. His glasses are wet and fogged when he comes back into the car, his nose red and scrunched up as he tries to see. He opens the car door, sticks his foot out, sweeps it back and forth to find the road underneath.
We stop, open the door, locate the road, inch forward. Ten, fifteen feet at a time. This is how we find home, hours later.