Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One Big Surprise at Bismarck's PrideFest

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

The surprise? This Saturday, from 50 feet away, I heard someone call out to me, I care about you.

Do you remember the last time you heard, I care about you?
I'm more accustomed to hearing, I love you, from my brother, for instance.
Love, love, love, from Dragon Jane.
I like you, from Ferne's roommate, Marilyn.
I'll miss you over the weekend, from Ferne.
Be a good girl, from Grandpa Van. To which I always replied, You too.

The only time I recall hearing, I care about you, was this Saturday at the North Dakota Capital PrideFest. The words came flying across the road from a scripture-quoting protester. I care about you. Then he elaborated.

Like the other 1,099 PrideFest goers, I was quickly bound for hell.

I didn't give this statement a lot of thought at the time. I mean, there was a merry-go-round, after all. And a campfire, a live band, shared snacks, good friends, loving kids, the stranger who gave me a Mardi Gras necklace, someone's gentle hand to hold, not to mention a love-infested Dragon Jane performance.

I wonder, though. Had I given these words, I care about you, any thought at all, what might I have said?

Well, then, come on over! All kinds are welcome here.
Even me.
Even you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"And We Saved the Tree"

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

Tree-hugger is one of those terms I wear proudly, like a Girl Scout badge. There's worse things to hug in this world, I'm pretty sure. And (no offense to all the huggable trees out there) there's one tree I especially love to hug. I gaze on my friend, this 60-year-old elm tree, from my window every day.

I turn to this tree when I get the news...
Polar bears may be extinct by this summer.
Wolves being shot to death in Idaho and Wyoming.
Hundreds of bison needlessly slaughtered in Yellowstone National Park.

Even when I cannot bear to read this news, I feel it. I can tell my world is suffering from a distinct loss of the wild. I know I don't hear bison thundering on the plains, or listen to the wolves calling to the moon, or live in a stable climate that can nourish cold-weather species for very long. So, because I need to, I gaze on my tree each day.

This living, nurturing, mama tree reminds me there is wildness. The squirrels climb, with braiding tracks, up and down her trunk. Birds of many kinds, every shade of prairie color, stop here for a moment. This tree is my place of peace, my wild refuge.

But then, just before Earth Day, I see two City officials circling my tree, with an ominous piece paper in their hands. In my best June Cleaver impression, I bustle out the door and ask, Can I help you?

My tree will be chopped down, they say. Something to do with water pipes. That's all I understand. My tree will die this summer. There's nothing they can do; they seem sorry.

I concoct schemes:
1) Become a full-time tree sitter.
2) Chain myself to the tree.
3) Invite my dad to Bismarck and chain him to the tree.

Soon I become...
1) Depressed.
2) More depressed.
3) Even more depressed.

Then, weeping under my tree one night, I ask myself these questions...
1) What if there's a way to save my tree?
2) What can I do in my lifetime?
3) What if City officials love trees too?

I call all kinds of people and make some curious additions to my vocabulary:
1) Curb stop.
2) Water valve.
3) Water main.
4) Service line.
5) Service connection.
6) Directional drill.
7) Splice.

Many times, Kris and I talk to...
1) The city.
2) Contractors.
3) Subcontractors.
4) The work crew from Geo E Haggart, Inc.
5) Friends and family (for good measure).

How all of the above decide to help us, I don't know. But on Thursday, July 17, 2008,
our water line is moved, clear around the tree.

At 4:30, I ask, Are you done already? Yes, they say, they're done. One crew member tells me, We didn't tear up the concrete. He gestures toward the elm. And we saved the tree.

Tree-huggers, every one.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Life Is a Game Show

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

Did you ever think your family was on TV? Somehow, I happened upon an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show when I was a kid. After that, I knew: Somewhere, somehow, my life (like Dick's) was being broadcast over the airwaves. How my mother ever convinced me otherwise, I don't recall.

Little did I suspect that in my lifetime, my childhood notion would become reality (TV) for so many. Strangely enough, this leaves me feeling...inspired? But I'm not going to make my life a reality TV show. Mine's going to be a game show. Or, anyway, questions for a game show. Want to play?

1. Please note the top photo. This is not a blemish or a bruise. It's a tattoo. OK, it's not a tattoo anymore. But it used to be (sort of).
Anyway, what do you suppose it said? And who do you suppose put it there?
A) I love Barack Obama, put there by Jesse Jackson.
B) I love Barack Obama, put there by Bill O'Reilly.
C) Urban Harvest, put there by Tracy.

2. What did Ramona call me as I was hauling Urban Harvest gear to the truck, carrying a potted plant on my head?
A) Courageous.
B) Karen.
C) Butchy Poo.

3. True or False. After hugging city trees with Katy and me, Aria (age 6) became a tree herself (or at least she looked like one).

4. True or False. At Carol and Fred's house, I did my impression of Grandpa Van's rooster-navel joke (for no reason).

5. Why has Connor (age 5) chosen black as his favorite color?
A) I don't know.
B) Frankly, I find black to be exponentially superior.
C) Black is very dark.

6. It was so hot this week (in between not being hot at all), Corinne had to peel what off of Roberta's back?
A) A tarantula.
B) An admirer.
C) Roberta's backpack.

7. True or false. Did I actually catch Bonnie saying, Well, yeah, my toes go numb. But they don't fall off?

8. How old are some of the people I've danced with this week?
A) Three.
B) Six.
C) Eleven.
D) Nineteen.
E) Thirty.
F) Sixty-nine.
G) All of the above.

9. In working with city engineering to save our boulevard tree, the engineering department has been genuinely...
A) Friendly toward tree-huggers.
B) Helpful toward tree-huggers.
C) Willing to hug a tree when no one's looking (maybe).
D) All of the above.

10. On the way home from an enchanting hike with the Badlands Conservation Alliance in the North Dakota Badlands, Kris and I happened upon the Belfield Quasiquicentennial (125th) Celebration. The crowds craned their necks to the sky, awaiting the parachute jumpers, who were getting outsmarted by the wind again this year. Last year, where did the parachute jumpers land?
A) By the bank, as planned.
B) Upside down in a juniper tree within the proposed Badlands Wilderness Area.
C) Next to the railroad tracks, as a train was approaching.

11. On the Badlands hike, I spotted a horned lizard (a.k.a. horny toad), which earned me an A for the day from a retired minister's wife and a college professor. It never crossed my mind to pick the lizard up. Good thing. Had I been so foolish, what might the lizard have done?
A) Started singing La Bamba.
B) Turned into a princess.
C) Intentionally squirted blood from the corners of her eyes for a distance of several feet.

12. True or False. I won the Eco-Kids Project raffle! And now I have a marvelous original children's painting, Zoo Zingers, by Gwyn Ridenhour. (If only those guys in junior high could see me now. I am a winner.)

Go, team, go! Thanks for playing.

(For the answers, click on comments.)