In defense of dirt: Keep river bottom trails unpaved

Perched by a megamall, light rail station and airport, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge lives up to its name, a refuge from the made world of cars, trains, planes and buildings.

On a slow Sunday afternoon, I meandered for hours on natural trails along the refuge’s river bottomlands,. Gravel crunched underfoot. My sneakers landed softly on the padding of dirt and mud. Beyond expanses of wetlands and tall grass, I spied gleaming high rises and heard planes thrumming overhead. On the dirt trails, I felt at home in the world of nature.

For now, at least.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to add paved trails, constructing a 10-foot-wide swath of concrete that will eventually snake from the refuge visitor center to the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. Other parts of the refuge, from Shakopee to Chaska, are already paved.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YNot every place in the world should be paved. Take, for example, river bottoms. They’re naturally absorbent, soaking up excess water from high rivers and heavy rains. Paving river bottom trails is akin to paving a sponge. It’s June, and the DNR website notes that several sections of the trail –paved and unpaved– are still closed due to spring flooding. The unpaved sections can dry out, naturally. The paved sections, after repeated flooding, will need repaving.

I went to the river bottoms to walk in nature, on natural trail. The wide dirt and gravel trail accommodated walkers, bikers and runners. I passed a signs for a disabled hunter area. Just ahead of me, I saw a young boy, jumping across the trail in muddy boots. On this sunny day, he didn’t need those boots back home on paved sidewalks. Here in the refuge, those boots outfitted him for adventure.

In seven-plus miles of walking, my sneakers barely got muddy. Instead of jumping in puddles, I enjoyed the puddles while staying dry, appreciating their mirror-like sheen, and the splash of a robin, taking a dip mid-trail.  

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YAs I walked, I noticed animal tracks on the trail — deer, frog, turkey and, hmm, are those raccoon prints? Along unpaved trail, it’s easy to see signs of nature. A hoof print caught my eye, and only then did I notice that a few inches away, a frog hunched, camouflaged, in a shallow divot in the dirt. The brown and gray of the trail blended with the frog, just as the dirt trail complements the murky Minnesota River flowing alongside. Wildlife, trail and river fit together, naturally.

Walking on, I spot a deer in the glade just north of the trail, eying me, just as I had observed the frog. The deer and I stand and watch one another, then I meander on, moving easily, stepping on dirt, pebbles, twigs and leaves. I feel nature underfoot. Every step I take connects to nature; my sneaker landing on and pushing off of dirt.

This refuge in Bloomington offers a retreat from the developed world. While some Minnesotans head north, fleeing the city for cabins, many others, including me, find respite from sidewalks and the paved world at this refuge. We seek out natural places because they are natural, not paved. The dirt underfoot is as essential as air, as necessary as rain.

We need a place to walk and run, bike and play, away from the paved world. The river is a refuge. Natural trails are a refuge.

Please, please, don’t pave this refuge.

The DNR is hosting two open houses for the public to hear and talk about the paved trail plans on:

Thursday, June 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bloomington Public Works Building , 1700 W. 98th St., Bloomington;

Wednesday, July 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bloomington Civic Plaza , City Council Chambers, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington.



A life, in 31 lines

  1. Born around Easter, the baby’s nickname was Bunny.
  2. His parents named him Dudley.
  3. His mom died before he was three.
  4. He stayed at boarding schools until he was nine, when his dad remarried.
  5. Dud saw the sunny side of life, an eternal optimist.
  6. He loved football.
  7. In December 1944, he left high school to become an Army paratrooper.
  8. The first seven times he went up in a plane, he jumped out.
  9. He wrecked his ankle.
  10. He finished high school; a veteran allowed to smoke in the teachers’ lounge.
  11. He re-enlisted, planning to make the Army his career.
  12. He served in Okinawa and Korea, an infantry platoon sergeant.
  13. He loved being a soldier, loved being with his buddies.
  14. Diagnosed with diabetes, he left the Army and worked as a bank teller for $40 a week.
  15. He was the best man in seven weddings.
  16. He met a young widow; their first date was going to her husband’s grave.
  17. To surprise her, he converted to Catholicism.
  18. Four months later, Dud and Marie married.
  19. They had a son, then a daughter, then another, and another, and another.
  20. Dud kept working at the bank, at times, working weekends at a gas station, and the National Guard.
  21. He ate the backs out of all his kids’ Easter bunnies.
  22. He became a bank manager and got to work first, making coffee for the tellers.
  23. He played softball and swam at the pool and Jersey shore.
  24. His tanning regimen started with spring chores, then June, Coppertone; July, Hawaiian Cocoa Butter; and August, baby oil and iodine.
  25. After 22 years with one bank, he was laid off; and soon found another bank job.
  26. His grandaughter called him Papa Bear; she was the only grandchild he met.
  27.  His diabetes worsened; he kept working full-time with just 6 percent kidney function.
  28. He stopped working and started dialysis.
  29.  His kidneys failed. He kept his sense of humor.
  30.  Hospitalized with pneumonia, one foot amputated, he was still joking with the nurses.
  31. June 4th, 1987, thirty-one years ago today, the easiest-going member of the family, Dudley William Havelin, died.



Challenge Islamophobia, meet neighbors

The mother looked sad, remembering how her teenaged son broke down in tears when she picked him up from school, where classmates had scrawled a picture of a bomb and the words, “You Die,” on his locker.

Zarina Baber was one of several speakers at Thursday’s Challenging Islamophobia conference who could pinpoint the moment when they were targeted for being Muslim. During the daylong conference, sponsored by CAIR-MN, the Council on American Islamic Relations, I learned:

  • Two Minnesota legislators—Rep. Cindy Pugh, R-Chanhassen, and Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater—refuse to meet in their Capitol offices with any Muslim constituents.
  • Three quarters of victims of Islamophobic attacks are female. And in most cases, the attacker is male.
  • There’s an app, Report Islamophobia, so researchers can track all incidents against Muslims and use data to influence policy.
  • One Twin Cities woman’s repeated anti-Muslim screeds likely inspired three men to drive hundreds of miles to bomb the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.
  • Anti-Muslim sentiments rise more in relation to political campaign cycles than in reaction to incidents of Muslim violence.
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Report Islamophobia app

One of the conference’s biggest messages was this: Islamophobia has nothing to do with Muslims, in the same way that racism is not about people of color. Discrimination is more about the person projecting anti-black or anti-Muslim sentiments. The people who are discriminated against are just — people.

More than 200 people attended the Challenging Islamophobia conference; the lead sponsor was the Twin Cities Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Japanese-Americans, whose families were incarcerated during WWII, know firsthand why it’s necessary to stand up for people who are being targeted. More of us need to join in, speak out and support Muslim people who are under attack. We can donate to CAIR, or attend a Ramadan iftar, where Muslim and non-Muslim people share a meal and conversation. It’s a good way to get to know our Minnesota neighbors.

I keep thinking of a scene CAIR-MN director Jaylani Hussein described, of a placid cul-de-sac, where five kids come out of their houses to play. Five kids whose families came from different countries, whose families may practice different religions. The kids run to their bikes, and ride around the neighborhood, just Minnesota kids, playing together, living in peace.

Get involved and donate to CAIR-MN



Listening to art & activism

This weekend, you can close your eyes at East Side Freedom Library and not miss a beat. Friday and Saturday nights, composers and musicians take center stage at the library, performing muscular works about social activism and artistic creativity.

Both nights also feature immigrant perspectives: Reinaldo Moyo grew up in Venezuela. Douglas R. Ewart is a native of Jamaica. Ewart will perform with his multi-disciplinary ensemble, Quasar, which mixes dance and poetry with music using instruments ranging from a didgeridoo, mbira, bells, gongs, and a laptop. Quasar  includes poet/vocalist/spoken word artist Mankwe Ndosi; dancer/choreographer/musician Lela Pierce; cellist Jacqueline Ulton; pianist Carei Thomas; computer musician Stephen Goldstein; reedist Donald Washington; and flutist/cellist/vocalist Faye Washington.

So come to the library this first weekend of May, and wake up your senses, tuning in to the energizing sounds of art and activism.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 8.45.36 AMFRI, May 4, 7:00 – 9:00 PM  The Artist as Activist with Composer Reinaldo Moyo The Schubert Club composer-in-residence will talk about his role blending art and activism. A graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema music education, as well The Juilliard School, Moyo will be joined by pianist Matthew McCright.

SATURDAY, May 5, 8:00 – 11:00 PM  Sonic-Kinetic Paradise, A Performance by Douglas R. Ewart and Quasar This multi-disciplinary performance fuses poetry, dance, and eclectic music. A suggestion donation of $20 for the performers.

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Douglas Ewart photo by Glen Stubbe

Both performances at East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. 651-230-3294   



Powerful art

This weekend’s Saint Paul Art Crawl offers a bonanza of beauty and cool crafts, including powerful works rooted in solidarity and social justice at East Side Freedom Library.

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The vibrant purples and hot pinks textiles at the Library are more than pretty pieces of cloth. This art has a story, woven by Karen women who meet weekly at the East Side Freedom Library. Weavers will demonstrate their skills and sell their handcrafts at the Library, throughout the Art Crawl, which starts Friday, April 27, 6-10 pm, and continues Saturday, noon-8 pm, and Sunday, noon-5 pm.

Other East Side Freedom Library artists include musicians The Langer’s Ball, jewelry and leather artists plus several potters.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 12.50.36 PMVeteran potter Claire O’Connor’s commitment to social justice shows up in the work she’s done helping battered women, at-risk young people, and people with chronic mental health issues, as well as in her artwork. Photos of civil rights icons and a burning bus, part of the Freedom Ride, cover the sides of a potent work, Fill the Jails 1961.

O’Connor takes a long view on history. In her blog, she notes that most of the although archeologists don’t emphasize it, most of the pottery artifacts come from women. O’Connor and the Karen weavers are part of a tradition of women making art– be it pottery or textiles– embedded with meaning.



Listen up to Luke LeBlanc

Guitar. Check. Harmonica. Check. Voice. Check. College degree. Almost. This Macalester senior has the talent to make a name for himself.

Guitar. Check. Harmonica. Check. Voice. Check. College degree. Almost.

This Macalester senior has the talent to make a name for himself.

Luke LeBlanc has been playing music for almost half his life. At age 13, he won the 2009 Dylan Days singer songwriter contest, with his Song for Bob.”

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 10.33.40 AMSince that precocious start, he’s played at South By Southwest, opened for big acts, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Delbert McClinton, and Phil Solem of the Rembrandts. He’s released two CDs, First Rail and New Orleans Bound, plus a new EP out this month.

LeBlanc is young and has learned more about what works and what flops. He’s ditched the turkey feather in his cap. Dropped his Little Diamonds stage name. Those theatrical touches distracted from LeBlanc’s strength, his voice, which Star Tribune music critic Jon Bream and others have compared to a young John Prine. The 22-year-old musician is wisely moving ahead using his own name, a simpler, more appealing brand.

Luke LeBlanc and John Richardson at the Hat Trick Bar

These days, the Economics major squeezes in gigs around school work, performing with keyboardist John Richardson, violinist Laurie Melting, and blues harmonica player Stacy Bowen at local coffeeshops, brewpubs, and bars, along with non-traditional venues– a church, Greek restaurant and library.

At the East Side Freedom Library, LeBlanc is part of a April 21st Music and Movements program tracing the roots of protest folk music from 1960s to today.

Folk music comes naturally to LeBlanc, who grew up in North Minneapolis listening to Johnny Cash and Hank Snow with his dad, Duke Sopiwnik. At age 11, LeBlanc inherited an old guitar from his grandfather, then taught himself to play. He’s been writing his own songs since he started playing, using his talented voice to tell his own stories. Listen to Luke LeBlanc and you’ll hear the sound of potential, tunes worth tracking.

As college graduation nears, LeBlanc knows he’ll continue pursuing music. For now, he’s focused on his April 29th EP release, Time on My Hands.








Do Minnesota women have equal rights?

It’s been decades since the Equal Rights Amendment almost became law. Now, there’s a new push to pass the ERA.

Are women equal? The question seems ludicrous. Of course we are equal. Except, we aren’t. Women don’t have equal rights under the law. Not in our state. Not in our country. We still haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment, a clear and simple statement, first introduced in Congress in 1923, then re-introduced in 1971.

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

By 1972, the ERA, that simple statement of equality, had passed both the House and Senate. Once 38 states ratified the amendment, it would become the law of the land. So why isn’t ERA the law? Thirty-five states ratified it, three states short. What went wrong?

An anti-feminist named Phyllis Schlafly churned up fears about the ERA’s supposed dangers. She insisted that the amendment giving women equality would diminish housewives, force women to be drafted, wreck employment law, and lead to co-ed bathrooms.

A clear-eyed lawyer dismantled what she called the four “horribles,” the four fears that Schlafly and others opponents spewed. That lawyer, Columbia University’s first tenured woman law professor, was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her 1973 article for the American Bar Association Journal, “The Need for the Equal Rights Amendment” points out that horrible fears Schlafly spread in the 70s had already been answered in the 1920s, when Congress first introduced the ERA.

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RBG, in the Sept 1973 American Bar Association Journal

It’s been 25 since Ginsburg presented her cogent arguments for the ERA. As a fearless Supreme Court justice, RBG has risen as a role model and champion for countless women and men. So, if women like Ginsburg can achieve the Supreme Court, aren’t we already equal? Consider the words of one of Ginsburg’s colleagues, now-deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Asked why he voted against Lily Ledbetter’s petition for fair pay, Scalia said, “The Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex, thus I was under no constitutional obligation to do so.”

Scalia said it plainly enough. “The Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex.” The Constitution and amendments specifically mention male citizens, race, religion and country of origin, for example. So all those specifically named groups and characteristics get strict scrutiny in courts;. Gender discrimination doesn’t get the same level of legal protection. We need the ERA.

Now, almost fifty years since the 1970’s oh-so-close ERA drive, there’s a renewed push to pass the amendment. Here in Minnesota, Heather Allison leads ERA-MN, which is lobbying to get the Equal Rights Amendment on our state ballot as well as continuing to push for final ratification nationally. She’ll be at East Side Freedom Library on Monday, April 16, for Equal Means Equal, a documentary on the status of women in America, and conversation about what’s happening with Minnesota’s ERA campaign. Minnesota ratified the ERA in 1973. Allison and others hope Minnesotans will vote yes for the ERA again. This time, Minnesota’s ERA has updated language:

Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender.”

Fourteen simple words that say so much, making equality for all the law. Fourteen words that would make it easy to answer a basic question, Are women equal?

Let’s give Ruth Bader Ginsburg the final word:

The equal rights amendment, in sum, would dedicate the nation to a new view of the rights and responsibilities of men and women. It firmly rejects sharp legislative lines between the sexes as constitutionally tolerable. Instead, it looks toward a legal system in which each person will be judged on the basis of individual merit and not on the basis of an unalterable trait of birth that bears no necessary relationship to need or ability.”

MONDAY, April 16, 7:00 PM  Equal Means Equal: Do MN women have equal rights? View Equal Means Equal, a documentary about women’s status in America, and hear Heather Allison, president of ERA-MN, about efforts to get the Equal Rights Amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution and nationally at East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. 651-230-3294