Friday, September 25, 2009

Vacation Reveries Part 3

As promised, here is part three of my travelogue about vacationing in Grand Forks, North Dakota last month.

In 1997, Grand Forks experienced one of the most devastating floods in U.S. history. The Red River, which incidentally flows north to Lake Winnipeg in Canada, overflowed its banks, forcing 60,000 people from their homes. Flood waters filled the entire city and, to make matters worse, downtown Grand Forks started burning after the flood hit. Because fire trucks could not get through the flooded streets the fire burned out of control, destroying 11 buildings in the process.

Grand Forks has a sister city, East Grand Forks, which is just across the Red River on the Minnesota side. It too was devastated by the flood, with every home in the town under water. Between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the scale of destruction was enormous.

The basement of my sister's home flooded, but not the upper floors. When my dad built the house, he put the electrical junction box/circuit breaker panel in the garage for his own convenience although builders usually put them in the basement. This decision helped my sister and b-i-l very much because they had electricity after the flood, which most people did not have.

During the evacuation, their family got separated. My sister, b-i-l, and niece went to Bismarck to stay with one of our brothers. Their son ended up in Fargo with his very pregnant girlfriend. Her parents ended up in Minnesota. The teen-aged couple delivered their baby in a strange city with not one family member or acquaintance present to help or support them. (Fortunately, that turned out well. The baby is now a good-looking 12-year-old with two very darling little sisters.)

That's the background for telling you about the Greenway. The two towns decided to prevent a similar disaster by protecting the land in the expanded flood plain from development. To this end, they built the Greenway, 2,200 acres of open space developed and maintained for recreation in the heart of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. The Greenway is comprised of several parks, a campground, 2 golf courses, disc golf courses, not to mention more than 20 miles of multi-purpose trails, and shorebank fishing sites.

The campground is very slick. A large area of homes in East Grand Forks disappeared due to the flood, either washing away during it or being torn down after. Those in the flood plain could not be rebuilt, but the streets remained, the driveways remained, the sewer, electric, and gas connections remained - a perfect set up for a campground!

Michael and I decided to check out the Greenway. It is only three blocks east of my old house, so we walked over one morning. My old neighborhood remains about the same as I remember it except that the trees are much bigger and the streets correspondingly shadier. Crossing over to the Greenway, we walked through a small heritage park with historic homes I had never seen before. Apparently they were moved to that spot sometime after I left home in 1968. The wall of the levee rises immediately behind the historic homes. We walked another block to an entrance, which happened to also be the entrance to Lincoln Park golf course.

My most vivid memories of Lincoln Park are tobogganing down its hills in winter. Piled with the accumulated snow of a North Dakota winter and perhaps exaggerated by my tender age, those remembered hills were much taller and steeper than the gentle low hillocks visible to me as we entered the Greenway. Michael had his camera - of course - and we decided to take a little walk on the trail. We turned south so that we would be closer to home when we exited. The thing is, we had no idea how far we would be walking to find an exit. The pathway stretched ahead of us, meandering in lazy curves with a steep hill on our right - the levee itself - and the gentle slope down through trees to the river some distance away on our left.

We walked a long way. Sometimes we saw the rooftops of homes adjacent to the levee. In other places, you would think we were in the country. Periodically we came upon park benches set under trees, an amenity we would be thankful for after we had been walking for a while. A bicyclist passed us on the trail but we saw no one else, perhaps because it was a weekday and people were at work. I started to flag; walking or standing for more than 15 or 20 minutes puts a big strain on my hip and knee joints because of my lupus. Since there didn't seem to be any point in backtracking when we must be coming to an exit, we rested on a bench until I felt ready to keep walking.

The opening in the levee wall appeared at 32nd Avenue. We had entered the Greenway at 23rd Avenue. Nine blocks doesn't seem like such a long walk, but we had started out at 28th Avenue and now had to walk back to it and we had also walked three blocks east of our home base. Altogether we walked twenty-four blocks. I felt relieved when we got back home and I could sit on the sofa and lounge!

Another adventure we took involved driving to the University of North Dakota to see an exhibit at the North Dakota Fine Arts Museum. I had been to UND many times in my childhood because my dad worked on campus. He was assistant director of the state public health laboratory officed there when I was a child and going into his office had been a treat for me. The fellow who was my dad's boss, Mel, always had a piece of chocolate candy for me, the kind wrapped in shiny tinfoil and sometimes a small gift from a trip or something. I don't know why I received these tokens of affection from Mel, but they came with no strings attached and I looked forward to them.

The lab smelled funny, chemical smells and some animal smells. They kept white mice at the lab and periodically we would get to bring a couple of white mice home as pets. The mice scared me. I had been the first person to come upon an unfortunate scene of mouse-cannibalism among our pet mice as a preschooler and I never trusted mice after that.

UND has grown tremendously since my last visit. The English Coulee, a creek that used to be at the far western edge of the campus, now runs through the middle of it. One of the new buildings housed the art museum we were looking for. After a few wrong turns and wrong buildings, we finally found it. We wanted to see a photographic exhibit I had read about on the Internet. The photographer, Chuck Kimmerle, has had a career primarily as a photojournalist and this was his first solo exhibition. The show was named "The Desolate Landscape."

I hate to describe the work because I cannot do it justice. Be sure to follow the link I included above so you can see his work for yourself. Kimmerle photographs with a large format camera. This means that he can get exquisite detail from a long way off. He has photographed North Dakota's endless expanses, winter and summer, in a way that renders them mystical and sacred. The photographs look beautiful on the Internet, but seeing them in person, printed 20-inches by 24-inches, is literally breathtaking. I felt bad that no catalogue of the show had been printed because I wanted to take all the images home with me.

The final "big" adventure of our time in Grand Forks was the visit to Jennifer Patterson's studio in Alvarado, Minnesota. Jennifer owns Quilted in Clay and makes beautiful jewelry in the form of miniature quilts and quilt blocks. I met her at the Houston Quilt Festival last year and purchased the loveliest set of earrings and a matching necklace from her. Recognizing Alvarado, I introduced myself as being from the area. She said I should call her if I came for a visit and that is just what I did.

My parents and sister & b-i-l joined Michael and I on the trip to Alvarado. Jennifer and her husband Bruce actually live outside of town on a lush farmstead. Driving up the last mile or so on a gravel road, we passed an old, weathered building, a grain mill perhaps, overlooking a creek right at our turn into their front yard. As it happens, they own the old building and hope to renovate it into a guest cottage. Another old building they own sits right near their parking area - an old one-room school house.

Their own house is a classic rural Victorian with a welcoming front porch, a friendly dog, and a large and imposing goose. Apparently the dog is totally harmless, but the goose is not! A large truck garden and several trees heavily laden with fruit surround their house. Bruce and Jennifer came outside to meet us and graciously invited us in. We walked through the kitchen where Bruce was putting up plum preserves. The kitchen table had rows and rows of stacked mason jars full of plum jam and the canning kettle boiled away on the stove.

While Bruce went back to his preserves, Jennifer took us into the dining room and showed us a tall stack of plastic bins full of her jewelry. She invited us to go through them and pick out whatever we wanted to buy and pointed out some bins with sale items in them. What a lot of fun we women had going through that jewelry, each piece lovelier than the next. Janet and I quickly found things we liked, but Mother doesn't have pierced ears and thought she wouldn't be able to get any. Fortunately, Jennifer makes clip on as well as pierced earrings, so in the end, all three of us purchased something we liked.

The exquisite detail on such tiny pieces just boggles my mind and I asked Jennifer how she made the jewelry. She was kind enough to show us her studio and demonstrate her technique. Jennifer uses the techniques of millefiori, an ancient and famous glass making tradition and applies them to clay. As you will see when you look at her website, the results in clay are really beautiful. She will be back at the Quilt Festival in Houston in mid-October, so if you are interested, you can see her pieces there.

That is it for adventures in Grand Forks. The rest of my time was spent with my parents and family. Mother gave me more tutoring in quilting techniques and helped me get my current quilt sandwiched together, helped me design the templates for the stitching, and then encouraged me to get started. Quilting a queen-sized bedspread is daunting, but mine is well underway thanks to Mother. Michael went out and photographed several times without me, but I haven't seen the results yet.

When we returned home, we stopped again at my brother and s-i-l's in Omaha for another nice evening of home hospitality. We drove back to Oklahoma City on a Thursday. We had a plan for OKC - to visit the the Fine Arts Museum which happens to stay open late on Thursday nights. That is the final chapter in my vacation saga. I didn't really intend to go on and on like this, but it turned out to be a great vacation and I don't want to leave out any of the good stuff!

So, as soon as I can, but before it turns into October, I will finish up with my tale of the Dale Chihuly glass exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Fine Arts.

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