Friday, June 28, 2013

Lake Woebegone Lodge and Resort

In contrast to the drought of last year, the rains in the Midwest have been plentiful this season. Rather than blast rocks out of the river for barge traffic, river communities are becoming ever more adept at constructing and deconstructing temporary flood barriers. It’s not a problem restricted to the cities and towns along the Mississippi. Many of its tributaries have found themselves inundated by flood waters. Standing along the river watching unfathomable amounts of water travel by in a deceiving state of tranquility, thoughts are prone to wander. Before the river bugs or smell of dead fish can distract, the mind considers where this water has come from and where it is going. Looking up and down the river, over the horizon, and even turning behind, I find myself contemplating where it is I will call “home”.

“Home” is somewhere out there, I’m sure of it. I’ve been downright exhaustive in my search for it over the years and by sheer process of elimination I am sure I will find it soon. I believe I will find it soon for I’ve gone from a search for perfection to a state of being willing to settle. I’ve opted to acknowledge that the Lake Woebegon I’ve searched for probably isn’t there and if it was I’m not sure I want to find it.

If Lake Woebegon exists, I have a strong feeling of what it’s turned into or, undoubtedly, in the process of transforming itself into. If it’s true to its name its shores have been developed into a resort. As the cold grip of winter subsides the lakeside community becomes a flurry of seasonal activity in anticipation of the onslaught of migrating half-ton trucks pulling two-ton floating party platforms. As with any good town this one likely comes complete with its own fudge shop and family dining establishments adorned with vintage d├ęcor. It’s a place where for $149 a night I can rent a room at the lodge and forget about my troubles while I play golf before falling asleep to the murmurs of Baseball Tonight on ESPN. It’s an opportunity to throw caution to the wind and order that Bloody Mary with breakfast. I’ll have boutique shopping and small town charm a short shuttle ride away. I’ll be able to briefly lead a different life where servants smile and endure my unique observations on the weather, sports, and economy as they take my order for a caloric feast. As I depart I will have a smug sense of satisfaction, knowing that I’m only two long weekends away from a free upgrade to the imperial suite.

Or maybe Lake Woebegone is something untouched. It has stable but modest property values, small independent retailers, and a healthy local food system. There is no Chili’s, no Target, no Fred Meyer. The residents aren’t too concerned about how far the drive is to the nearest Costco or Bed Bath and Beyond, nor is their primary concern attracting them. Children (and many adults) find more creative ways to pass the time than tossing disgruntled avians at less than reputable swine. The town gets their energy from a nearby wind farm, leaving communities elsewhere to mitigate the effects of the mercury laced exhaust from a coal fire power plant.

However, I’ll take what I can get at this point. I’ll try to find a place that at least gives me the option to be “local”. To buy my groceries from someone with whose farm I am familiar. To visit a hardware store on rainy days and purchase supplies for my next home project. Or simply to ride my bike down the street without crossing four lanes of traffic at Montana interstate speeds. I’ll take a place that has some degree of authentic vibrancy, a place worth visiting without the allure of a golf, fine dining, and convenient shopping. I’m willing to call some place home thats been built not to attract crowds of cash flush out-of-staters, but rather to meet my ever lowering expectations.

As the sun sets and rises here on the Mississippi, it brings with it the allure that “home” might not be that far away. That a small house, with a front porch, a fireplace, and a good plot of soil to garden might be someplace not that far from here. The students at the local college are several blocks away, and while I may stroll campus on a Sunday morning I do so well rested without interruption during the night. It’s a place where I don’t have to go to a chain grocery to purchase staples like tomatoes, carrots, grass fed beef, and peppers. While the downtown square may have a few vacancies and the Wal-Mart may have already beat me to it, maybe there is a place that I too may call “home”.

It’s with this desire to belong and a defeating sense of placelessness that I see more than a reflection of myself in the river, I see a path. While this water has momentarily accumulated in the interior of North America it remains restless until it has found its way to the ocean. Although in the still of the morning the river appears calm and slow, underneath the surface a constant force channels its way in search of some place other than here. I find that while I may go about my daily routine, a desire and curiosity persistently pull my thoughts elsewhere. Just as the water, I too remain restless with the inherent knowledge that as long as I expect more from the place I call home my journey will continue.