A visit to Chisago County

Last week, with the temperature breaking 40 degrees, I had spring fever and decided to venture out of town. Recently I’ve been reading The Emigrants series of novels by Vilhelm Moberg, about a group of Swedes who migrated to America in the mid-19th century, and settled in Chisago County about 30 miles north of where I live. This area still retains much of its Swedish heritage, and was calling me to come and connect with it some more.

Here and there along the county roads, it’s common to see barns, outbuildings and perhaps original homesteads that echo the lives of the early Swedish settlers. As in Moberg’s books, early settlers often lived in one room houses, perhaps like this one.

Leaving my car to take this shot, it wasn’t 1 minute before an older couple kindly stopped to see if I was having car trouble. Somehow I don’t expect to make as much contact with people when I’m out in the country, but on the contrary, this was just one of several encounters that afternoon that made me feel like I was among friends, family and neighbors.

Struck by a particularly nice farm, with its silos gleaming in the afternoon sun, I pulled over on the side of the road to take it in. The resident cows greeted me with interest, and I was reminded of some passages in Moberg’s second book in which the family’s borrowed cow was treated as an honored family member. Having a cow and fresh milk made all the difference to the family’s survival, especially over the winter.  I could tell from their surroundings and response to me as a human that these cows were also well loved and cared for.

Heading down the road I was enthralled by some gigantic power line poles rising above the corn fields. My movements to shoot them eventually drew me into conversation with a crew from Excel Energy who were out repairing some lines. Seeing them using a crane up in the sky on this bright spring day was a thrilling sight. Aaron Desrosier, their foreman, shared all kinds of fascinating information with me about power lines, like how incredibly heavy and strong the lines are; and that in California lines must be buried enclosed in a tube and so can be pulled out when broken, while in Minnesota lines are buried as they are, and left there when new ones replace them. One of the coolest things Aaron shared was that the repairmen (and women?) working on the lines get dropped down and picked up on top of the poles by helicopters, leapfrogging their way along. Wild! As a former farm boy, Aaron remarked that the work wasn’t much different from stringing and repairing fences.

I honestly wasn’t actively seeking out references to the Swedes of the last century, but it did seem like they were rising up to meet me. This cemetery, circa 1878, lay along a busy road, across from a school and business. The names and dates spoke clearly of those who had settled here, their lives beginning in Sweden and ending in Minnesota.

Looking for a snack I dropped into the Many Voices Booksellers and coffee shop in Lindstrom, and discovered a wealth of love and stories, expressed through the decor, items for sale (including yarn!!), and above all the store’s manager Patti Jirovec. Almost immediately we fell into deep and wide-ranging conversation about Life, and along the way I learned about the special vision and experiences of the store’s owner Jamie. As I savored my tea and donut, I took this picture of Patti spinning.

Some days it seems like the Universe just opens up its arms to you and you fall in. It was only 2 1/2 hours that I spent in the Chisago area, but it felt like during that time I saw the past so clearly in the present, found I had friends I never knew I had, and felt my life expand exponentially.


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