Goodbye--and Hello!

 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. In addition to attending classes, conferences, workshops and lobbying the legislature, I worked to get an assisted living facility built in my home town of Fertile. 


Along the way, I learned a lot about the state of the care we give our elderly. 


In so many ways, the care is wonderful––particularly in our small towns where people are able to stay in their communities when they need help with daily needs. 


But I also studied parts of the world where, due to constant cuts, the eldercare system has deteriorated into a state of perpetual crisis. 


In fact, I would describe the state of care I saw in some locales to be a silent humanitarian disaster. I am thinking of an Alzheimer’s unit where I peered through the bars on the door at the over-crowded ward and was told, “You have no business here.”


It was a horrific place. Thankfully, it was nowhere near here. 


It was in a country where they brag about how they take care of their older people. However, when I saw the actual care provided, it made me sick to my stomach. 


I became determined that our eldercare system in Minnesota would never sink to those levels. 


Such a crisis seems far away. But it is not. 


When you see the cuts nursing homes have endured over the past few years, and the stress rural nursing homes in our area have just to find qualified staff willing to work at cut-rate wages, you wonder if we are far away from a similar grim situation. 


After a winter of thinking, it became obvious that no amount of writing and rabble-rousing could substitute for sitting in a place where one could influence actual policy. 


Despite a long-standing pledge to myself never to enter politics, last week I announced that I am seeking the DFL nomination for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 1-B. 


As you can imagine, area editors can’t very well print a column by a writer seeking elective office, even if that column contains nothing more than musings about trumpeter swans and our hapless Twins. 


So, I will stop writing the column until the political business is resolved. That could be sooner, or it could be later. 


I am thankful to you kind folks who have followed the column for the past years. A newspaper column is an exercise in self-disclosure, yet I have rarely felt anxious that my opinions or observations, however offbeat or unconventional, would be greeted with overt hostility. A little mumbling, maybe––but no pitchforks or shotguns. 


A quiet decency and dignity characterizes the folks of Northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. I am honored to live here, but also honored to have occasion to express in words what I love about this eccentric, often forgotten, but beautiful and sometimes downright miraculous corner of the world. 


We natives have our faults. I think it is best to look our quirks in their face and laugh about them. Not everybody agrees with that approach, and so I have sometimes offended. 


To those I have offended over the years, I just want to take this opportunity to say: tough beans.


The fun part about living here is, even if we disagree on some things, when we have a disaster––if we get stuck in a snowdrift, or if our house needs sandbagging, or if we get cancer and have a pancake supper, or if we need a ride to the doctor, all the petty stuff gets left behind and we take care of each other. 


In a country which is ever more divided about issues which, in the final analysis, don’t really affect our day-to-day existence, we might work to emphasize the things which we have in common. 


They are more numerous than you think. 


When I come home from a winter of travels, I realize other parts of the country just don’t get us. 


Let’s keep it that way. 


All the best.