Festival Shopping

Dateline: Pine Island, Minnesota

As newcomers to southeast MN, our curiosity is piqued by local summer ‘festival’ events, those special moments that allow direct contact with local culture, so last weekend, as you might anticipate, we stayed home and gave consideration to a sexual encounter.  Wait, wait, of course that’s not true, because this IS a family blog, but the point is you’ve got to get out and live a little, NOT outlive and get a little.

With the anticipation of two dogs in heat, we head north from Rochester, 20 miles, to attend the Pine Island Cheesefest.  The weekend prior we had hit the jackpot visiting the Lanesboro Rhubarb Festival and thought this might be another winner, and from here forward, the day slowly turned downhill, like sasquatch in snowshoes attempting an escape from the beef jerky papparazzi.

It’s 10 AM, a Saturday morning, and the town, Pine Island is nearly deserted.

Jack and Chas stop in the local park to take “manly relief”

Flood stage, 24Sept2010,

Lynn takes note of the high water mark, easily five feet above the ladies room floor.

And nearby, on the outdoor patio of the Pine Island Cheese Company, Jack perches on the picnic table quietly anticipating a cheesey treat.

Beautiful building, locked, and nearly empty

Walking into town we take note of the ‘arts and crafts’ fair, in the auditorium of the middle school.  Lynn ventures in, and then out, in less than ten minutes……”old ladies, card tables, garage sale castoffs, cheap trinkets from China, and not from the generals of Tao, the active and holistic conception of nature, but rather, the Dollar General store”.

The main street is closed to traffic by diligent civil patrol officers, swollen with importance and backup; orange barrels, do not cross tape, one whistle, and wooden horse barricades.  The street is lined with food vendors, prepared it seems for an invasion of famished Sumo wrestlers….deep fried Oreo cookies, Indian Fry Bread, Funnel Cakes, Elephant ears, and 96 oz servings of iced slurpees.  No cheese of any kind.  Three hours here for ‘snacking’ + three hours in a tanning bed and you could go home looking like OPrah™.

If you happen to schedule this outing, the Pine Island Cheesefest for 2012, note the following:

  • there is no cheese
  • very few pine trees
  • no island

And should one of your companions be of the female persuasion, make sure she has a bathing suit to swim into the restroom.  The only water in sight is the north branch of the middle fork on the Zumbro River, whose sole function is to flood the ladies room in the park every fall, where it is said, No Man is an Island.  So the summary of this blog is very much like the Seinfeld theme, a show about nothing.  Pine Island provided us a proper balance to Lanesboro, and we left feeling we were batting .500, good in any league.

We head eastward on MN 60, to and thru Mazeppa, presumably named after Zeppa’s mother, and a two hour drive drifting through the Richard Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest, > 1,000,000 acres of forest-savanna transition, so serene and peaceful that we are back up to batting a thousand.

Reminiscent of the Allan Funt production mantra of the 1950s…..sometimes, when you least expect it, “smile, you’re on Candid Camera”, this glorious ride had all three of us, me, Jack, and Lynn, grinning from ear-to-ear.

Now pass me another one of those Oreos.



Schmoozing Rhubarb

Surrounded by bluffs more than one hundred feet high, carved by the Root River during the pleistocene era, lies a valley too beautiful to describe.  The centerpiece, a bucolic small town of less than 800 people, Lanesboro, MN, by state proclamation, has been declared the Rhubarb Capital of Minnesota.  The first Saturday in June is the designated date for the only festival devoted exclusively to a rhizome (an androgynous plant that can be either a fruit or a vegetable, but not once mistaken for a cross dressing pumpkin).

So Lynn, Jack, and I leave Rochester for the 40 mile trek, passing first through Chatfield, MN, home to Billy Funk Trucking.

Try saying that fast, three times in a row

Lanesboro has been featured in, get this, lineup:

  • Great American Main Street Award, 1998
  • 50 Best Outdoor Sports Towns; Sports Afield
  • 20 Best Dream Towns in America; Outside Magazine
  • The fluff Sunday newspaper supplement, Parade Magazine

AND, drum roll, Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion

In spite of that we were not deterred and forged ahead to be welcomed by:


Vibrant downtown unchanged for 50 years

The festival is held in Sylvan Park, a pristine setting with premier people gazing, while…

in pink socks….

Courtesy of an extraordinary a capella vocal quartet, The Rhubarb Sisters, let’s bring them on…

Don’t let their upscale dress fool you, the sisters have TALENT

Followed by their understudies below, the Rhubarb community chorus, who balance lesser talent with an overdose of enthusiasm

I was particularly enthralled with the beautiful lady behind the “H” in rhubarb.  Not mentioned in the town bio, in ages 18 and over, women outnumber men, 100 to 85.1.  You have to love those odds, I’d like to be 0.1 for a day.

There are the young,

The old,

the oldest

and in-between the buns

Makes biking to the United Methodist Church an attractive option

The outrageous

and the mundane

A mime clown juggling  rhubarb sticks on fire

Even Jack served as a judge, in an olympic forum contest among youngsters, as to who grew the largest leaf and stalk combined.  The winner was determined by accurate measurements and capricious, arbitrary, canine oversight.

Hmmm…lemme see now, anybody wanna bribe the judge with a rhubarb pie dog treat?

We ended the day at the Peddle Pusher restaurant (which had been the local drugstore through 1985) with the daily special, Chicken rhubarb salad on a croissant (with walnuts, diced fresh onion, and bits of apple).  Delicious + a pie to go from the Lutheran Ladies and a torte from The Sons of Norway.

Lynn held her own against a Texas Star quilt

My favorite, “old blue eyes” with or without a nasal cannula accessory

It really doesn’t get any better, anywhere, than Lanesboro on a June in Saturday and sharing it is a pleasure.  Hard to recall a day where I’ve been more proud to be a citizen of this country.

On the way out I find that we are being stalked by three very hot adolescent women, in the rear view mirror.

On County Road 8, headed westward, the refrain from the Rhubarb National Anthem (sung to America the Beautiful) rings between my ears and my heart:

Oh beautiful for rhubarb stalks

For red and green and pink (and pink)

For lovely green expansive leaves

Above the kitchen sink

Oh rhubarb plant, oh rhubarb plant

God shed His grace on thee (on thee)

And crown thy good–and darling–

Would you share your recipe ?

Keep on trunking.

© 2004-2011 Church Street Publishing, Inc. “Airstream” used with permission.

Antidote for Alumapalooza


For those of you suffering an overdose of fun, friends, and adventure in Jackson Center, the following may offer temporary relief from indefatigable hilarity, and, like Beano® or Lactaid®, excess gas.

The Storm Team disaster, severe weather, catastrophic, tornado alert staff has turned on the stereophonic sirens and the three of us have descended to the safety basement shelter of our 1855 farmhouse.  I stare blankly at the ceiling, 2″ x 8″ joists of hand hewn oak beams, and wonder could this be the day ?  Really, the old house has stood for 156 years (56,989 days counting leap years) and this may be the big one.  I’m not making light of anyone’s misfortune and for the moment can empathize with the people of Joplin, MO.

Laundry table tornado emergency kit: wife, oxygen canister, Jack, candle, flashlight, cell phone, lighter, two beers, and a favorite photo of late mother-in-law

The warning subsided, so we left town, destination Rochester, MN.

Currently overlooking the Wisconsin River in picturesque, Guttenburg, Iowa, where barges float quietly toward the Mississippi.  Yes, that Guttenburg, honoring the famed printer of the 13th century, the same guy known for selling 21 copies of a well known, ostensibly non-fiction religious work.  He did not, however, ever reach #1 on the NY Times bestseller list.

Jack, driven to the levee in a Silverado Chevy, recalling his days with Rin Tin Sawyer aboard an old river houseboat

The ride north on US 52 is a memorable slice of the Iowan midwest; Garanvillo (“Gem of the Prairie”), Monona (“Garden City of Iowa”), Postville (“Hometown to the World”).  Vibrant small towns, farms, picturesque homes, farms, manicured lawns, more farms, active small businesses with neighbors sidewalk chatting, none of the buildings yet emaciated and now vacated by the “big box” phenomenon.  The largest sign entering the towns is either the list of community churches, or the line-up of service clubs; Lions, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters, FFA.

Sun up on on the WI and IA border, at a scenic turnout overlooking the Wisconsin River

We’ve reached Rochester and already Jack is making friends with a neighbor, who, sadly, is made of molded water-extended polystyrene.

Yo, white boy.  Don’t you want a whiff of me ??  Hello.

Oh, to be at the Alumapalooza.