Photography by: Julie SaariAmy R.
School Craft Learning Community
(Concordia Language Villages)
Have you ever met a person that simply shines, someone so full of new found life and energy that their skin, eyes, and smile actually glow? Well that is whom I found when I met Amy. She is one of the most beautiful people I have had the pleasure to meet and I believe that this is because she radiates beauty from the inside out. Read how Amy has woven herself into our community, and why we are lucky to have her.
My friend Dawn Standera is a Cavandoli macrame artist here in Bemidji. She knots waxed linen and other colored fibers in intricate patterns to create subtly stunning jewelry. The kind you want to feel, as well as wear. I picked up a piece she was working on the other day, and marveled at the thousands of knots it took to create a something that was just a few inches long in each dimension. On the back side, the mathematical pattern gave way to the structural weave of the strands holding it all together; equally interesting and worth examining closely.
Bemidji is like that piece of art for me. Small, as far as cities go, but teeming with texture, pattern, and thousands of colorful threads that tie together to make a cohesive place. Bemidji is small enough that you can meet one person, and through them get a glimpse of other people, and before long you follow a thread of people to land in the middle of loosely woven tapestry of friends and acquaintances that hold together and provide comfort and beauty for those they touch. Like Dawn’s weaving projects, it looks like one cohesive whole from a distance, if you look closely, it’s really fascinating. Close up, you can see each individual knot. On the back are the errant strands that run across the pattern, tying it all together. You can run your fingers over the loops and cracks and imperfections.
If you go deep enough into this town, you find the same thing. It may seem to be a pleasant mix of old and young, male and female, a few dominant nationalities with little true diversity. Spend time here, though, and you find that this person was a member of a world famous punk rock band in the 60′s, and that one has written more plays than you can conceive of. This person is heading to Bishkek for a yearlong adventure, and that one creates paintings that can make even the shortest winter day shine with light and warmth. One person is shouldering the weight of illness and death with grace, and another struggles to keep positive in the face of crushing depression. Sometimes when this town chafes me and I get impatient with the “small-town-ness” of it, I remember that everything that is worth keeping together is held that way by being tied, patched, knotted, and knit. Each of us bind our wounds as best we can and we are all essential to the weave.
Looking back, I realize that the first three people I met once I moved to Bemidji five years ago are now three of my closest friends. Other people and friendships quickly grew through participating in all the unique things that Bemidji has to offer: outings at the beach, kids classes at the science center, world class Yoga instruction, an incredibly rich Unitarian Universalist congregation. While these things can all be found to some degree in larger cities, I don’t know how many small towns can offer this abundance of natural, cultural and intellectual pursuits that bring small groups of like-minded people together on a regular basis.
My thread in the tapestry of this town is tightly woven into that of the Concordia Language Villages. My job as the Construction and Special Projects Coordinator puts me in contact with people from all over the world as we work on building projects for any one of the 15 different villages operating across the state. Until I started working at the Villages, I was ready to walk away from my chosen career as an architect, having found little in the way of authentic social value in that profession. Working at the Language Villages has given me the opportunity to practice architecture while literally saving the world, as their mission involves “Peace Through Understanding”. I could have traveled the world over and not found a place to do that, but here it is, right here in Bemidji. Somedays I feel like the world has come to me, as I usher an Undersecretary General of the United Nations through Bemidji and out to the Villages, or try to decipher an email from a French architect who is providing design work on a project. It is not lost on me that I live in what most people would consider one of the most remote parts of the U.S., yet I am intimately involved in more international architecture projects than most architects living in large cities.
Moving from California to Bemidji was a bit of a challenge, in some ways. I knew what I would be giving up by leaving our home in the Sierra Nevada’s. I was prepared to deal with the weather in Northern Minnesota, having grown up in Ely, and gone to school in Fargo. What I was not prepared for was what I would gain. There is a lot to love and enjoy about California, and I’d recommend living there to anyone who is looking for some adventure. However, coming to Bemidji was like coming home, even though I did not know a soul in this town and had never visited during my previous 20+ years as a Minnesotan. There is something about me that fits here. I understand the people, I appreciate the landscape, I love the seasons; the way things change and move on. Most people my age here have families, which was not the case in California. It was hard, as a mother with young children, to find a group of women who shared the same ideas about parenting and families that I had, if I could find women with children at all. I found myself bouncing back and forth between wonderful people who wanted to live in a commune and raise their children collectively and nice women who were worried about what type of Hummer to buy that would still pull their boat. I was glad to find a friendly and welcoming group of women in Bemidji that shared the same mundane problems that I did – how do you limit your kids exposure to TV and still keep them engaged in our culture? How do you teach them good values in the midst of a really me-centered world? Great solutions and examples abound here in Bemidji. More importantly, I feel like I am part of a group of people all struggling together.
My children go to school at Schoolcraft Learning Community, another important thread that weaves through my life. I look forward to seeing the impact that school has on my children as they grow up; I can already see the impact that it has had on me, and I’m grateful for it. The staff and students work hard there to cultivate a community that welcomes and cares for everyone who touches it, and I can see that in the way my children treat each other and other children. Due to the conflict management program, I have been very firmly put in my place by my daughter as a kindergartener, who was empowered by the fact that she was given the right words to express what she knew to be true: “Mom, you are NOT in the circle of peace right now.” It’s good to have to live up to your children’s expectations.
Bemidji is bursting with talented and motivated people of all ages and backgrounds. This community comes together over music, art, theater, dragonboats, rollerderby, walleye, snowmobiling, hockey, football, literature, food, children, and culture. I very seldom feel the need to travel to Minneapolis/St. Paul for entertainment, and when I do, I feel a little hollow, because I know that I am missing something at home that would be just as satisfying because I would be connected to it in some way – directly or indirectly.
In the last five years, Bemidji has woven itself around me and right down into me. It’s become like a favorite piece of clothing – one that keeps me warm in the winter and gives me shade in the summer. It’s not the fanciest or the most eye catching, the most expensive or extraordinary, but it’s beautiful. If you look at all the threads woven into it, you’ll see some that are familiar, some that are soft and comforting, some are bright and shiny, others muted and dark. Some are there for strength, others for accent. The intricacy of the pattern is fascinating to see. After looking at it a while, I feel comforted knowing that not only do I have my own thread in this tapestry of a place, but that there is room in the pattern for my own contributions. This town fits me, and I wear it proudly wherever I go.
Written by Amy Rutten
pics by Julie Saari