I’ve been a fan of Sam Shepard for a while, and not just because he and his wife the actress Jessica Lange lived in my town for 10 years (and when I was in high school he read a few of my stories, long story).
Shepard is out with a new collection of stories, Day Out of Days. He has had two stories published in The New Yorker in the last few months (here is one) and they have been subtle, wry tales of relationships and aging, written with his usual imagination and precision.
“Have you got a girlfriend?” she asks me out of the blue.
“A girlfriend?” I say, checking to see if our daughter has overheard this, but she, too, has been lulled to sleep by the heat.
“Yes, that’s right. A girlfriend,” my wife repeats.
“Where did this come from?”
“Don’t act so surprised. You could very easily have a girlfriend and I’d never know it, would I? How would I know?”
“I’m sixty. Those days are over.”
This is not the Sam Shepard of the 1960s, ’70s and 80s, when he wrote edgy plays like “Buried Child” and “Fool for Love.” Those were the works of a young writer pushing the envelope of art, challenging convention, and expressing a dark, modern vision.
Today, his work seems to have mellowed in subject matter, as he is a father and husband and getting a bit older. His last collection, Great Dream of Heaven, was well-written, but the subject matter frankly focused a bit too much on his time in Stillwater, shuttling the kids to school and the such.
Day out of Days is a road trip of the spirit through the American West, a book that should cure anyone’s mental rut with its quirky tales and unexpected observations. In this collection, Sam Shepard has proved himself an enormously inventive writer, working in territory that seems familiar, but that proves to be surprising and revelatory.
Temperatures climbed out of the single digits today from where they have been stuck since Christmas, into the 15-20 degree range. A Sunday blessing. We celebrated this afternoon with a snowshoe hike at some DNR land up by Forest Lake. We all had some pent up energy from a couple weeks of weather that does not encourage outdoor recreation, though I think Lola most of all.
As we hiked away from the car, we could feel a breeze at our back and Katie remarked it would be in our faces on the way back. Our hike took us along the edge of a woods of mixed hardwoods with rolling corn fields to our left. As we trekked along, the sun came out and we reveled in the feeling of it on our faces. The woods narrowed and then jutted out like a peninsula into a large wetland. When the woods terminated, we set out across the marsh, aiming for more woods on the other side.
We didn’t make it that far. About halfway across it suddenly became apparent that the dog was flagging. While she had a lot of energy from not getting much exercise, apparently she was also out of shape. She was no longer bounding through the snow and when I called her back she struggled along slowly, pushing through the chest-high snow. Since she’s not smart enough to just slow down, we turned back.
The breeze was on our faces like Katie predicted, but the sun and blue sky was out too, and that more than made up for it.
I’m glad to hear that money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment–which Minnesota voters passed in 2008 to increase the statewide sales tax to fund conservation, arts and culture project–is going to make a real impact in the St. Croix River watershed.
Minnesota conservation legend Darby Nelson, who now serves on the Lessard Council which makes recommendations to the Legislature on how to spend the money on habitat projects every year, mentions a couple interesting projects that the council is recommending in a post on TheAmendment.org. The first one addresses a dire need along the Lower St. Croix where development is threatening the river:
A million dollar allocation to Washington County will help preserve fish and wildlife habitat by protecting 253 acres of critical riparian habitat and one mile of shoreland. The work will complete a permanently protected three mile continuous corridor along the lower St. Croix.
Valley Creek, a unique trout stream in Afton and a St. Croix tributary, will benefit from a $1.2 million allocation:
This stream that flows into the St. Croix is one of very few trout streams in Minnesota where trout populations can perpetuate themselves through natural reproduction. According to Tom Waters, retired fisheries professor at the University of Minnesota, not only is this stream one of the best producers of trout in the state but it is believed to be in the top ten percent of trout streams in the world by that measure. More than twenty endangered or at risk wildlife species call the stream’s watershed home.
Here is the full request (PDF). By all accounts, it’s an amazing little stream and the only trout stream of any note within 50 miles of my home. But I’ve never fished it and probably never will, because landowners along the stream are notoriously protective and gaining any access is all but impossible. It grates against the sensibilities of many of us trout fishers who so value public access to public waters.
Maybe this issue speaks to the struggle many conservation organizations–and particularly the secretive trout-fishing community–face : do you publicize and open up a stream to fishing so you build a strong community that will work for its protection? Or is the added pressure not worth the political potential? In this case, it seems like the landowners and a nonprofit were enough to get the job done.
A bit further from the river, but in the watershed, I recently learned that Lake Elmo Park Reserve, a popular destination for cross-country skiing, will be getting some lighted ski trails for nighttime skiing and a beautiful barn on the property will be converted to a chalet/warming house, all with our tax dollars. Edit: D’oh. By my own map of the watershed, it appears the the Park Reserve is actually just outside the watershed.
It’s really great hearing about all this and it’s exactly why I voted “yes.” Let’s hope the legislature respects the Lessard Council’s hard work and approves these projects in the upcoming session!
Related blog posts about the amendment from back when it was being debated:
The National Park Service produced a terrific 20-minute film about the St. Croix River two years ago titled “The St. Croix: A Northwoods Journey.” It’s available for viewing at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway headquarters in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and as a loaner DVD from several libraries in the region.
But it has not been available on the Internet … until now! As a citizen who loves the river, I thought I could help and I have taken the liberty of posting it here.
It seems like in this day and age, government agencies ought to make such materials available online, though I understand the bureaucracy and such can be overwhelming. But it is a great flick with beautiful footage of this wonderful river, and unique characters expressing what it is about the St. Croix that is so special. In any case, I think it deserves a wider audience that it is destined to receive with limited physical availability.
(The video is a large file and make take some time to load. Please be patient.)
Love the river or know someone who does? Use the “ShareThis” link below to easily let your friends and family know about the film through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or your choice of social media.
I have published two volumes of a chapbook titled "Esker." The most recent volume, "Nowhere Else But Here," was released in January 2010. It features writings from every day of June 2009 in an old Japanese form called haibun.