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Newspaper Columns

A Vantage Point
A New Column Every Other Week!
Newest column appears first, traveling back in time. For column titles and descriptions, visit The Column List

#59 Minnesota’s Mini-Disasters
appr. 438

Ahhhh, the soft hum of gasoline driven generators. Mmmmm, the delicious scent of 2-day old food. Ohhhh, the beautiful buzz of chain saws throughout the neighborhood. Yes, I would be remiss if I neglected to comment on the storms that passed through our area last weekend.

As we finish a week of work and tend to our scrapes, our sore muscles, and our broadened views of the sky, there should be a moment set aside to appreciate the magnitude and beauty of nature’s power, and its total control over every aspect of our lives.

For those who lost electricity, how many times did you find yourself switching on a light in different parts of the house even though you knew electricity had not been restored? How often have you marveled at the emptiness in some of the views from your windows? Can you remember a more peaceful and romantic time than when the storm blew over, the lights went out, the kids went back to bed, and the candles came on? Have you ever felt more needed than when you comforted children frightened by the storm? Has your household ever gone through a more comprehensive metamorphosis than the changes inflicted by the storm?

I have spoken to people everywhere, each with an intimate story about how the weather made them move their life into a simpler groove -- a more earth-bound existence.

I listened as people talked about how they were going to manage their next meal. I heard simple transportation needs become major issues. And through it all, I heard the genuine concern for everyone’s well-being.

-How’s grandma?

-Can I take the kids for a few hours while you clean up?

-I’ll be over with a wheel-barrow once I’m done at dad’s.

In many ways, I can see how disaster can be a means for community growth and union. I am sure that Grand Forks, North Dakota, and St. Peter here in Minnesota will be much stronger communities for the work they’ve endured.

Here in our area, I saw teamwork, community, and a combining of resources during a time when hardship could have proven paralyzing. I think we can still count on the neighbor across the street. I think we can still depend on the strength of family and community.

So until our next mini-disaster, we can look to the future to measure our success -- we can see what the next weeks show in recovery, we can see what the next months bring in rebuilding, and we can see what nine-months bring to our communities population. Cole is a Valley News columnist.

#58 An Evening With Indians
Appr. 861

The evening began with a prayer, an invocation in the simplest form -- a story if you will, preparing those who watched the movement that followed. Two Native American dancers, painted beyond recognition, stood at the edge of the stage in full regalia. One played a wooden flute while the other spoke respectfully over the bending melody. He sent his voice over the audience to the back of the large Benedicta Arts Center auditorium at the College of St. Benedict. The Lakota Sioux Dance Theater had come to perform for the people of central Minnesota, and for two hours, the auditorium’s contemporary theater was transformed into a mysteriously sacred space where men and women prayed, spun, and danced. Composed of people from Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota, the Lakota Sioux Dance Theater is not a traditional performance group. They incorporate prayer, story-telling, visually intoxicating dress, music, singing, and dance in a brief yet comprehensive introduction to Native American ceremonial performance. After the initial spoken presentation, the entire troupe entered the stage through scented smoke that billowed over the stage and into the audience. Music rumbled from a drum surrounded by a handful of singers who screamed their songs through the smoke, some holding their throats for support during high refrains. The dancers moved into a circle and placed tobacco flags at the four directions, cornering a sacred circle in which they danced throughout the evening. Their leader, Ron Good Eagle, a man whose seasoned yelps of sound bounced against the unnaturally hard walls of the auditorium, blessed each flag with smoke and a soft caress from an eagle’s wing. The subtle nuances of their dance and presentation are difficult to document, and are more easily described in poetry than prose. In some literature that follows the group, I found this poem and was struck by its insight. I Dance feel me dance for Mother Earth with every step a prayer I dance for those who cannot dance to let them know I care Watch me dance for all my elders, their spirits I hope to live See me move, I give you this, accept my sacred gift I dance for you my family, come and share my love I dance for him who I carry on, waiting up above I dance for those who have no pride help lift their heads up high I dance for those whose feelings hurt, yet still refuse to cry I dance for you, Great Spirit the mighty and all knowing I dance for all the women who keep the world going So when you see me dancing it truly isn’t I It’s Great Spirit who is using me to help us all get by. By John Warren I saw this kind of conviction in all the eyes of the dancers. They spun by the front of the stage, their colorful costumes, bells, rattles, and eagle feathers bending and shaking to their movement. One man spun in dizzying, unnatural circles, bending deep to the floor, then leaping into the air. A woman shared her gift of bending hoops into geometric shapes. And another man danced an Eagle Dance, his outstretched arms, covered with eagle feathers, becoming a great wing that engulfed him at the end of the dance. As I write about watching the performance, I find myself stumbling over language. I feel that it may not be my place to document what I saw. Despite this, I wonder how something like this can not be spoken -- not be shared. What better place to calm the indecisive mind and unite voices in conflict than in art? Where else can people of every history find common ground than in art and creative expression? When will our awkward preoccupation with political correctness give way to deliberate attention, sincerity, and compassion. If I take anything from watching these athletes and performers work on stage, it is that there is a place people can go where they can explore their dreams -- that environments created in art are void of fear and ignorance and everything else preventing us from viewing our world as we should; with clear, honest eyes that do not judge. Tonight, the Lakota Sioux Dance Theater will end a four-day workshop for young people here in our community -- teaching them about Native American culture, traditions, and spirituality through song and dance. Their efforts culminate in “Young Native Pride,” a song and dance performance by the dancers of the troupe and our young people at theShakopee Senior High School Carl A. Olson Auditorium at 7:00 p.m. This event is sponsored by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and a reception following will be hosted by the Shakopee Community Arts Council. If you enjoy cultural diversity, and am willing to be taken from your daily mundane to a different, more beautiful place, go experience these singers and dancers. Challenge yourself to use art as a means to view your world -- to filter through voices of fear and ignorance and arrive at simplicity. The music will overwhelm you, the clothing will intoxicate you, and the dancing will inspire you. Cole is a Valley News columnist.

#57 Adapt and Survive


We bought the hard-sided, small plastic swimming pool last summer for no more than seven dollars. The foreign guests staying with us marveled at how such little money made such valuable investment. The structure held water all summer, hosting splashing parties, water slides, slips and falls, and cool relief during the hot summer days. Seven dollars had never gone so far.

The rhubarb came from a friend who was transplanting the hearty bush to make way for a new garage.

"Come take what you want," she said smiling, knowing she'd delegated some digging.

My foreign guests and I brought the plant home and put it in the ground on the west side of the house, nestling it in a corner behind the back garage door. There the plant sat relatively forgotten for the rest of the summer.

The two met (the rhubarb and the swimming pool) when fall came and the swimming pool became a bother in the garage.

On a particularly frustrating Tuesday afternoon I dragged the bent and faded piece of plastic out of the garage and around back. Months went by, And from my basement window I would watch and hear the pool flap against the side of the house. Later, I noticed the wind had righted the pool and snow had accumulated. And when the snow melted the pool filled with a leaf-filled water that showed little bottom through its murky brown liquid.

I had given up on being a conscientious home-owner and discreet neighbor. A flipped boat, a broken riding lawn mower, an unfinished sand-box, and my moss-filled swimming pool occupied the side of my house, and I had no intention on moving any of it.

But late last week a strange flicker of inspiration came over me -- the kind that gives you the shivers because you don't recognize it at first. But after a while your begin to realize that something is trying to tell you something about your environment.

So I walked around back and tugged at the swimming pool. The water in it made it difficult to move, but after some clever shifting, I had drained most of the water and was ready to lift the large piece of plastic.

What I found beneath was a perfectly formed rhubarb plant, bright in color, pressed flat to the earth, growing in some altered state beneath the water heavy plastic. I was awed by its resilience -- by its shear desire to adapt and live. It sucked light and air and whatever else it needed for life through the plastic and water and pushed its way along the contoured bottom of the pool, struggling for open air and freedom.

I think I breathed for the rhubarb for a while, standing there holding the plastic pool, pulling oxygen deep into my lungs and enjoying the relaxing way the air slowly left me through my mouth. Countless are the ways we miss the subtle connections we have with our environment.

Already the plant has perked up and stands fresh and strong. I notice new plants populating the area around the main bush.

In July I will cut some of the plants and cook them down to make rhubarb jam. I hope by July, the rhubarb will have forgiven me.
Cole is a Valley News columnist.

#56 Tribute To A Teacher
appr. 756

I remember her wrinkled hands and curly, gray-white hair shaking above the collar of a wool plaid suitcoat. If I recall correctly, she was a gentle woman, whose presence demanded silence, but did so in a way that provided room for respect and just enough laughter to temper the moment.

She was at the end of her career, and I was in one of her last classes. And she was more like grandma than a teacher. She was Mrs. Williams -- third grade teacher.

For a freckled-fac