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Snapshots from a Book Tour

Snapshots from a Book Tour

On Friday, December 2, Ella and I load up her car, complete with baby seat for Stefan, her six-month-old. Destination: Baudette and Warroad for readings of Hand Me Down My Walking Cane. We pack laptops, rice crackers, yogurt, fruit, nuts and granola, lots of baby toys and a good stash of dark roast coffee, our drug of choice. We’ve been good friends for a long time, and now she’s my publicist. God knows what my book would be without her writing press releases, urging me on and emitting little sparks of creativity that fall like fairy dust on it.

This is our third trip to the border. Summer, 2010, Ella, daughter Samira and I went up for a lazy August vacation: canoeing, Saturday night fish fry, swimming at Zippel Bay, trying to convince Samira that dragon flies are beautiful, hardworking and not scary. This past August, we came up with another friend, Anne, for the pre-launch of my book. This is our first time together in the winter Northland.

First stop, North Star Press, at Clearwater, where the new books from the second printing are due to arrive by UPS. North Star, a family-owned business, nestles in woods and rolling hills on a farm that handed down for generations. We wait in the warm sun pouring in the windows, peruse the smorgasbord of novels, history, memoir, humor and watch the goats jump over rocks outside. The UPS man arrives promptly at 1:00 and we squeeze the fresh-off-the-press editions into the car.

Then up through the middle of the state. Baby Stefan coos at the landscape: golden fields of harvested grain, lacy tamaracks, not-quite-frozen rivers and dustings of snow. We stop at Walker for salads and strong coffee for Ella and me, baby cereal for Stefan before the last leg straight to Baudette, on the Canadian border, and the family house near Lake of the Woods. Ella heroically drives the entire way; I scan for deer leaping across the road.

I always feel a sense of relief and elation when we cross the line into Lake of the Woods County, as if we have traversed the burning desert and are safe at home in the Land of Oz. My mother instructed us to always honor our entry onto home turf by honking the horn and yelling, “We’re back in God’s Country!” When we get out of the car, the first thing that hits us is the absolute stillness, broken only by sighing of wind in the pines. And the air so crisp and clean you want to inhale enough to last a year; and the winter stars so bright, so low.

Next morning, Saturday, December 3, the Smiling Moon Café in Baudette. Linda and her crew are serving double lattes and fresh-baked scones for their hungry customers, and the airy, high-ceilinged café smells deliciously of espresso. Nothing makes me happier than to have this beautiful coffeehouse—crammed with objects and pictures of the moon and handicrafts and set up for wi-fi—in my hometown. I start to read around 10:00 to a full house, sampling each of the book’s four characters, Sadie, Emil, Magnus and Rose. There are old friends and classmates I have not seen for years, and it feels wonderful. Penny Mio Hirst, editor of the Baudette Region, photographs me and buys a book. But the real rock star is Stefan, with his long lashes and big smile, who undoubtedly is helping with the book sales.

We hang out, visit with friends and head back out to the Lake for quiet and an early dinner—walleye of course—at Morris Point Resort, just down the road. Ella’s not sure if she wants to watch Hockey Night in Canada on the Winnipeg channel. Neither am I, having spent my early teen years doing just that.

Next day, Sunday, the Warroad Book Fair, at the gorgeous Craftsman-style Warroad library. All polished wood and high windows, it is filled with sun, Christmas trees, cookies, crafts, ribbons and of course books. At 1:00 the doors open and people start to come in. After the first set of live music, I read a bootlegging section from the book and talk about the historical divide between Baudette, in Lake of the Woods County, always bristling with bars and bootleggers, and Warroad, in dry Roseau County. But barriers breed ingenuity. People tell me some of the solutions. Warroad is built on one end of the big lake. Enterprising citizens built a spit out into the water, far enough that it reached into Lake of the Woods County. A liquor store went up at the end of the spit. Then someone fitted out a houseboat as a bar, and Warroad residents had a place to go and have a drink. One woman’s parents met on the floating bar.

I exchange books with Evelyn McKeever, whose family lived, lumbered and ran resorts on the islands of the Northwest Angle. Her memoir, Flag Island Life: Ups & Downs, captures in words and pictures a time when residents cut ice chunks out of the lake and washed clothes in boiling kettles of water. It brings home the fact that regardless of liquor regulation, people all along the border had to work together to survive freezing winters, a huge body of water and an immensely remote location.

Monday morning Ella fixes frighteningly strong coffee, finishing off what we have brought, and we take off for The Cities, to the beat of Celtic Christmas music. The cantering rhythm, like horses along a winter road, inspires us to sing and puts Stefan to sleep almost until the Minneapolis skyline rises up to greet us.

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