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Bad Cat Creations
Coffee with sugar, a particular routine, a pack of cats, confident, all on her own terms… She is never shy with her smiles and I found her easy to talk to. She doesn’t want you to get the wrong impression- she isn’t soft she may even be gritty- tattoos, dark edgy hair, and a dress style you can’t just buy off the rack. However, I saw a soft side too (look at the picture of her holding her cat), she is kind and seemed loyal and honest. Fun, quirky, a robust true laugh… things I took with me after meeting Christina.
May I introduce you to Christina:
I was born in 1981 in Copenhagen, Denmark to an Icelandic Mother and a Minnesotan Father. I spent my first few years of life in the tiny farming town of Ogilvie, MN and moved with my widowed Mother to Bemidji around the age of 3. My Mom eventually remarried to a hot-rod mechanic and we moved to the outskirts of Bemidji to an old two story log home built in the 1930’s by my Dad’s maternal grandparents. We had no next door neighbors and I had no siblings, often feeling alone and stranded in the middle of the Chippewa National Forest, my imagination took hold.
As a child I would wonder through the woods surrounding our house, often playing a story or a character in my head, with my trusty yellow lab, Susie, by my side. Some days I was a princess, captured by an evil queen, some days I was a pirate on a treasure hunt for lost gold (which happened to be my play jewelry I would ask my Mom to hide and then diagram a map for me to follow). I picked flowers for my family, collected rocks for my collection, and danced within fairy rings. My Mom embraced art in our lives, and we were always trying new creative avenues. I loved playing with paints, stringing beads and listening to music (of all genres). All in all, a creative and fun childhood.
Growing older, I began to resent being stuck in the woods, far from friends and things to do. We did at times live in town in a home we owned, but always ended up heading back out to our home in the woods for freedom and the stillness. As years went by and I became a teenager my need to leave grew more and more. I couldn’t wait to get out and live my life, discover who I was as I often felt stifled here.
When I was 20, I packed my bags and left for Minneapolis, I was never coming back.
While living in Minneapolis, wanting to find who I was, I realized I had always known who I was. What I was missing was my voice.
Art had always been a coveted dream in my mind, something I loved and had been striving for. I wanted to be an Artist. I told myself time and time again I would never be an Artist because I couldn’t draw or paint the things I saw in my head. It would break my heart over and over. While working at a shop in Minneapolis that sold jewelry making supplies, I pursued jewelry techniques as I had enjoyed making rather primitive jewelry as a child. It all seemed to come so naturally to me. I would spend all day working at the store, building ideas for jewelry in my mind, to get home late at night and pull together the small jewelry kit I had assembled for myself and work and re-work old jewelry. One night, inspired by pendants that were given to me by a customer at my job that day, I got up in the middle of the night with an idea of what should be done with those pendants. I was too afraid to lose the idea in my sleep. After a couple hours of stranding and link working I held up my finished necklace and said ‘YES! This is exactly how I saw it in my head!” That would later come to be my first “Aha moment”. I realized that maybe I couldn’t draw or paint the images in my head, but I had found MY medium for creation and my voice as an Artist.
It was soon after that, when my jewelry box was over flowing, as well as my friend’s and family’s, that I decided it was time to take it to the next level and start my business. Bad Cat Creations was born in 2002.
After 3 years in Minneapolis, I grew weary of the constant stream of noise and distractions. I missed the sounds of loons and crickets at night, having never become accustom to the sirens and noise of the city. The end of that last year could not come soon enough. I bought my home (a small mobile home) and moved it out onto my family’s property. Still unsure of where I wanted my life to go, after a year I closed up the house and headed to Pennsylvania to get a degree in special effects make-up. I don’t know if getting that degree and moving to Hollywood was ever a real goal in my mind, but at the end of my schooling, just about to graduate I realized it was not the industry for me. So, still not wanting to “go home” I headed to Arizona and started working for the Renaissance Festival, looking for new experiences and travel. Those first few months of life in the Southwest left me feeling unhappy and a little lost. When in conversation with one of my closest friends, she asked “if special effects doesn’t make you happy, then what does make you happy?” Without hesitation I said “I love doing my jewelry designs!” This was my second “Aha moment”.
With new determination, as well as wanting to be close to my family, I returned to Bemidji for the final time and began the journey to fulfill my dream.
I began to see Bemidji with new eyes and a new place of promise. Feeling secure and free in my little home in the woods, taking in all the beauty around me in my own yard that I seemed to have missed before, I pushed myself to pull inspiration from all my experiences and travels. Pursing art festival after art festival, toting my wears, telling my story and meeting fellow artisans and new artists looking for advice on how to “get started” selling goods, a brainstorm started brewing.
Having always had the dream to own my own store, I decided I would not waste anymore time simply dreaming of it. I would make it happen. I had decided I would not only follow my dreams, but I would chase them down and make them my reality! And if I could help other artists along the way, and bring new and different products to my community- I would do it, and do it with a smile.
I often joke that opening my shop was purely a selfish dream, I wanted a fun little boutique like the ones I loved in Minneapolis and other places in my travels, and if no one else was going to do it, then I would! But in actuality, I wanted to fully embrace my community and help it grow into the artist community it is blossoming into. I began to meet wonderful people, and find new love of old places I had once never given a second glance too. I love that I can walk through my downtown area and encounter friendly strangers and smiling friends. I love the strong sense of community, and the feeling that if we can be a strong community, then we too, as individuals, are strong.
I have some serious pride of my town Bemidji. It is a fun, warm, loving, and creative community. I often wonder how I didn’t see these things before, but I don’t spend too many precious moments thinking of the past, wanting to savor every moment enjoying the present and dreaming of the future.
Lake Bemidji Waterfront
Strong is how I would describe Kathryn Lavelle. Brought here by an abusive man, ripped from the environment she knew and left here to survive on her own- now a single mother after escaping the clutches of yet another abusive relationship. In search for a ticket out of here Kathryn found instead a town that embraced her and helped her heal. She found a place that her life’s pain could be used to help others, she found a home. I will let her explain why Bemidji is her town
I was born on September 5th, 1967 from strong-New York born-half Irish-half Italian-church going-Catholic parents at St. Claire’s Hospital in a small New Jersey town called Denville. I lived in NJ until I was 9 years old and then my family moved to Maryland. I grew up in Maryland…Fallston to be exact…until I entered adulthood.
I attended Fallston High School, wherethe majority of my time was mostly spent skulking through enemy territory. Fallston was a lily white, somewhat affluent, mostly conservative community that seemed hell bent on showing me to my place and forcing me to stay in it. Let’s face it, at the time I was not pretty…I was not popular…I was not a cheerleader…I was never what you would call successful in school. I always felt out of place…as if I was supposed to be living somewhere else…some magical town or city where I could just be myself, breathe deep and be appreciated for my strengths and talents. I later attended Harford Community College only to eventually find myself great with child as they sometimes say, and I had to drop out after only half a year. I had become a statistic, just another one in my long life of statistics…teen pregnancy…sexual assault survivor…teen dating and domestic violence victim. I found myself a young, single parent living in Baltimore City, bartending week nights at a little motorcycle bar called The Loft so I could try and support my infant son. I eventually met and began dating a man from Minnesota when my son was about 3 years old, and we ended up following him back to his small hometown of Clearbrook. So that’s basically the extremely short, bottom line version of how I actually came to end up here in God’s Country, as some of the old timers are still inclined to call it. Before that point, I hadn’t ever given Minnesota a glancing thought…I’m not even sure I could have found it on a map because Geography was yet another school subject I definitely did not excel at (to the extreme chagrin of my father). My entire life’s game plan (from a 16 year olds perspective) was to hopefully graduate from high school…move to Florida where I’d help a friend’s grandma run her bed and breakfast…and write beautiful poetry to the majestic Sun as he slowly spread his amazing golden red and pink streams across the darkening sky. Talk about your culture shock when I finally ended up in Northern Minnesota…
Marriage number two didn’t fare so well…5 years in all…and I divorced the man we originally followed to Minnesota in the first place. I found myself with 3 kids by then, my two daughters Brianna and Mollie who were 3 and 4 years of age…and of course my son David who was 7 by that time. I was fully intending on moving back to Maryland with my tail tucked between my legs so I could hear family members say, “I told you so” for about the next 20 years. I moved out of our home in Clearbrook and got as far as Bemidji where I found a small trailer…REALLY small…in Northern Township. We signed the rental agreement, month to month, and then the children and I moved in. My plan was to work until I had just enough money to get bus tickets for me and the kids. Then we’d travel back to the East Coast so I could start from scratch yet again.
That was 14 years ago and I have lived in Minnesota a total of 19 years…5 years in Clearbrook and 14 years in Bemidji…almost half my life has been lived up here in the great Northland. You may be wondering then, why I never moved back to Baltimore. I didn’t move back because…when a place gets a hold of you…it gets into your blood, brain and bone. It sings to your spirit and says, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you! Better late than never, girlfriend…better late than never!” I got as far as Bemidji and realized…almost as soon as the first box was unpacked…that I was here to stay…that this was HOME! And all of my best laid plans…my eventual escape from Minnesota back to the East Coast from whence I came…became thwarted by this wonderful, eccentric place of energy and possibilities. Bemidji had in fact gotten a hold of me. I would like to add that my Brooklyn born, Irish East Coast bred dad finally ended up following me here to Bemidji after a few visits, and has lived here now for about 7 years. All of my social activist tendencies have come from this man…and it’s been wonderful having him here to spend time with…where he has had the opportunity to watch his grandchildren grow…and now has that same opportunity with his great-grandchildren! And he too, has come to think of Bemidji as his home.
At this point in my life I consider B-town to be my one true hometown, because it was the one I had been waiting half my life to find. Bemidji was the place where I first found my stage legs, my performer’s heart and my singer’s voice. It was the place where I became trapped in an abusive 10 year marriage from hell (my 3rd one) and yet it was also the place that helped me use those horrific experiences to reach out and teach others so they could begin their own journey of healing. It was the place that showed me unbearable heartbreak, pain and sorrow and yet it was also the place that gave me renewed hope and finally…FINALLY…true and unconditional love! It is the place where my children grew up and my grandchildren now embark on their own journey of growing and learning. It is the place where I live and work and breathe and dance and count my abundant blessings. Bemidji is the lake, the land and the sky…coming together to form a more perfect union of township and rural living. Bemidji brought my husband Cody and I together and Bemidji is where we’ll grow old together…me probably a little faster than him since he’s 12 years younger…but together none the less!
I love so many things in, around and about Bemidji.
..I love the Diamond Point Park…I love the lake trail…I love Preachers Grove in Itasca State Park where Cody asked me to be his wife…I love Paul Bunyan Broadcasting where I am currently embarking on a new career as a part time weekend DJ…I love the Wild Hare Bistro and Coffee House because sometimes “you just wanna go where everyone knows your name”, and they even remember what your usual is when it’s too damn early in the morning for you to verbalize it! I love the smell of Harmony Coop and Sunrise Natural Foods, and the wonderful people who work there and lovingly share their wisdom and knowledge. I love having a pint of Guinness at Brigids Cross Irish Pub because it reminds me of the Cat’s Eye in Fells Point, Baltimore. I love being able to walk into my local bank where the tellers know my first name and they’re always letting me know how much they enjoyed the last play or performance I was in. I love how random people see me walking down the sidewalk and ask how my family is. This is the kind of magic you don’t get in a large city…the magic of people connecting on a personal and emotional level that we sometimes take for granted. There are subcultures within our fair city that are reminiscent of true M. Scott Peck communities, and for me these pockets of evolving humanity are essential for my survival as a true human being…to know that people care about me and for me and are working with me to make the world a better place.I like to think of myself as a true Bemidjian because so many people in this town know me…what I’m about… and they still don’t try to change who I am. What an empowering feeling that is! People who live here can be their own true selves, and that in itself is a wonderful gift. I feel I am accepted and in some cases even respected (I hope!) for my domestic violence experience and the work I do to bring education and empowerment to northern community members. In Bemidji I am most recognized as being the domestic violence outreach and education coordinator for Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety…but I am also known for many others things as well. Bemidji has never tried to keep me in a box, rather it has allowed me to experience life on many levels. I have been an actor…a writer…a poet and playwright…a singer…a friend…a wife…a mother and a grandmother…a social activist…and I am very content to live out the rest of my days here, growing and learning while weaving my life in and around the diverse seasons and landscapes of the area.
So to wrap up and bottom line my story…who am I? I am an aging hippie living with her younger husband in an Earth home in Northern Township with 6 cats, 2 dogs and a large corn snake. I am the proud mother of three amazing adults and two gorgeous grandbabies. I am a good someone to have in your corner if your back is up against the wall because I will fight hard for what’s right and just. I am the one who will stop and be late for work if an animal is hurt on the side of a road because I must get out and try to help it. I am the one with an overflowing full plate and a few more on the back burner thrown in for good measure. I am a loyal friend and a relentless foe. And I am…most certainly…a true and loyal fan of my adopted home town…better late than never…Bemidji Minnesota!!!
Filming “Common Ground”
North East of Bemidji
Ashley was the one to contact me. She asked me if I would take part in her LPTV show Common Ground. I was so new into my project this prospect made me nervous. We met and discussed the possibility at a downtown coffee shop. When we left I was going to take part in Ashley’s show and she was going to participate in my project. She would be filming me taking pics of someone and I in turn would take pics of her filming someone,a very snake eating it’s own tail tale. What I learned is Ashley is learning to live in the Greater North. Brought here temporarily for a job, she is staying for reasons not listed in the travel brochure.
This is Ashley:
I was offered a job, I was moving to a new city! Life, as I knew it, was great! I received a packet in the mail from the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce, including ALL the information I needed to know about the city of Bemidji. Sure, the temperature looked colder…. and my friend’s eye’s nearly bugged out their heads when they saw 50 below in all of that information…but, it never really impacted me?
I guess, a naïve Ohio girl had never felt 50 below, so it was no big shake. I was ready!
On my 24th birthday, I loaded up my car and headed North with my mother by my side! As we passed each state line, my excitement grew! By the time we reached Motley, (next day) it was 8 p.m. and my excitement flew out the window somewhere on Highway 10. Where in the heck is this place, Bemidji? After two angels assured us we were headed in the right direction, we finally reached our destination!
The cold, winter months drug on, but I was reporting for Lakeland News at Ten and meeting several key community members! I was driving on the ice with a vehicle to cover stories with the DNR, which was shocking to me! I was watching Ice Rescue Searches with the local emergency departments. I covered Logging Days, an annual tradition in Bemidji. I watched two police officers in training, get zapped by the tazer gun. This process was all part of their training. They did ask if I wanted to be zapped too- now if that isn’t Minnesota Nice, I don’t know what is? I politely declined to be zapped! I watched winter blow away and summer swarm in with mosquitoes. I vividly remember ducking to the ground, thinking a pterodactyl was flying overhead! Thankfully, the mosquitoes don’t like me.
Soon, I met a great friend, who insisted on keeping me here. So I agreed when she asked me to meet a new guy, who had just moved to town too! Things were great- I was new to Bemidji and he was new to Bemidji. We were learning what this town has to offer, together! I became obsessed with the outdoors! I began to learn of the vast trail system. I was bike riding, running, swimming in the lakes and enjoying life in the North Country. We savored the summer days until winter blew in again and I was offered a job to leave, a morning anchor position, at a TV station in Wisconsin. I visited the small Wisconsin town, I even interviewed for the job, which was offered to me. After a lot of tears, many long conversations, a list of pros and cons, I decided this is my town! Bemidji, the last place on earth I thought I’d be living! Now granted, my love interest, Dale Turner had a lot to do with my decision to stay, but thankfully, I’ve never regretted staying here!
Bemidji is a unique place. It’s a close-knit community that thrives on togetherness. Whether it be volunteerism, community events, or a night out on the town we do it together. You see the same faces everywhere you go and to me, that’s ok! I enjoy the small town feel of Bemidji. I cannot believe the vast appreciation for non-profits! There are even businesses that allow you to volunteer your time, during the workday. Not too many other cities, especially larger ones, would be so willing to let employees reach out to their communities to lend a helping hand! I think it is awesome, I can say I live in a town that thrives on community!
Working for Lakeland Public Television for the past four years, I have learned just how important all non-profit organizations are to this area. Through my line of work, I have been fortunate to work within the Bemidji community and surrounding communities. Many communities rely on Bemidji, as it is the closest “city” to most of their towns. Not only do they rely on Bemidji for shopping, but for entertainment. We have a great venue for performance, art and outdoors! I have learned a great deal about the arts of northern Minnesota from a new show that I produce and host on Lakeland Public Television called Common Ground. Common Ground is a weekly series that highlights northern and central Minnesota. We explore the worlds of art, history and culture right here in the North Country! Meeting such talent in my very own community is such an adventure! The people of Northern Minnesota are great and the community I have learned to accept as my own is priceless! I have thoroughly enjoyed my 4 years in the Bemidji area and plan to call this place home for a very long time!
I could never have imagined the lifelong memories I have created here in Bemidji, MN. I now love the outdoors, have a new appreciation for the arts and thoroughly enjoy taking an active part in my community! Lastly, I should tell you there was some information missing from that very first packet I received from the Chamber of Commerce. It failed to mention, I would find love and lasting friendships here in Bemidji, MN. It’s for those reasons, I call Bemidji, home.
I had just finished a meeting downtown. A truck with a trailer pulled up and parked as I crossed the street heading toward my vehicle. The emblem on the side resembled that of a super hero, and maybe Kirby (The Bike Guy) is a super hero, at least in the world of bikers. Kirby grew tired of trying to make a living and decided to try to earn money doing what he liked instead. This decision seems to have served him well. Mobile bike repair with same or next day service is something this town obviously needed. But there is a man behind the business
Meet Kirby H. (aka The Bike Guy):
Water, pine trees, wood smoke and ‘smores, that was the beginning of my personal Bemidji. I guess I am lucky that my parents loved to camp. When I was a kid the word “Bemidji” was magic. I have heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but to an eight year old growing up in the middle of the Red River Valley, the word “Bemidji” conjured up a thousand pictures. Here a few words about my town, you will have to fill in your pictures yourself.
Summer, the camping was in the summer (and still is for my wife, kids and I) but since I arrived here in 1997 summer has grown into more than I could even have dreamt it would. I love to fish, enough said about that. Really, I love too many fun summer things to even start listing them, so I will list the fun Bemidji things I don’t do: rollerblading on the bike trail (no time), windsurfing (but my friend, Drew, is going to teach me this summer) and Muskie fishing (not enough patience). That’s it.
Fall, okay the smell of the leaves on a damp morning – I will never be able to put that into words so I won’t even try. My dog helping me find birds is the highlight for me, my wife prefers to round up her friends and head to “Girls Deer Camp.” When our kids were younger they loved to rake leaves into a big pile and bury each other (wait a minute, they still do!), the pumpkin patch, “Spooky Dinner” (our annual Halloween bash for the kids, their friends and our friends) late season walleye fishing on the Rainey, bow hunting, late season mtn. bike rides on 60 degree days in November, and finally the first snow arrives!!!
Winter, I would call it “the best season of all” but that would just not be fair to the other three. At Buena Vista Ski Area I fell in love with skiing the minute my oldest brother, Mark, rode a chairlift to the top with me and said “See you at the bottom!” I became and addict, I would beg, borrow and steal rides with my friends and their families, I signed up for any and all denominations that were sending a bus for the weekend, any way I could get there was fair game. On church trips we slept in the train cars that still sit in the Logging Village; those hot/cold then hot/cold bunks are where I left some of my best nights of sleep, ever. I could not believe it when, in the fall of 2005, Liz Letson called me and asked me to run the rental shop (I had managed a ski/bike service shop in Grand Forks when I was in college, so I knew the biz backwards and forwards). I tried to act cool but I think they saw the excitement in me in the first five minutes. I loved every minute of it (if you can figure out how to bottle the energy of two hundred school kids that just rode a bus two hours to get there, you will be a billionaire) but I am leaving to run my own business; I am still going to Ski Patrol but I will miss being a bigger part of the experience that people have there.
Spring, everything comes to a stop, slush turns into mud, then it snows again, then that turns in to mud; all on its own schedule with no regard for what us lowly humans want to get done. It is fun to drill holes in the trees and get the main ingredient for syrup out, but other than that I have come to appreciate the “shoulder” time of early spring. Spring gives a person time to transition from one season’s toys to the next. I get our winter gear stowed and roll out the bikes and boat for a little TLC. Relining the fishing rods and finding the life jackets means it is time to look forward to another summer and the circle begins again.
Ruby “works” at KD Floral flower shop on the corner of 3rd St. and Minnesota Ave. I find myself returning to this shop time and again not so much for the flowers (which are always fresh and beautiful) but, rather to see Ruby. Always friendly and happy to see you, she greets customers with her caring brown eyes and a wag of her tail. ‘Pet therapy’ is what I call it, what would you call it?
If you haven’t already,
Squirrels, birds, frogs, trails, snow banks, lakes, and creeks. It’s the perfect place for a dog. There’s always something to do where I live. You should see all the forest left to explore! I love to run on the trails that are out by our house. You can run and run and tumble and nothing gets in your way. And in the winter sometimes the snow is so deep my head barely shows above the top. Yea, it’s pretty great living here.
I didn’t always live here, or at least I didn’t always live where things were as wonderful as they are now. Let’s just say my previous owners weren’t very nice people to my brothers and me. We became street dogs, were starving, and had nowhere to go. About two years ago, we were found running across the road, north of Bemidji. A nice man brought us home. After some loving, I went to live with my family I have now. I always get enough food to eat and they love me so much. Everyone says I still look like a puppy since I’m so small, but I’m growing up. Next year I’ll be five!
I spend most of my time at my mom’s store. We go downtown every morning to KD Floral. It’s a pretty great job I have. Most of the time I get to sleep and look cute, but when the customers come in I usually get to greet them, especially when the mail carrier comes. He always brings treats. There are a few customers that come in and ask just to see me. That’s what’s so great about Bemidji. You can always find a loving face, a familiar smile, and if you’re a dog, someone to pet you.
On days when I don’t go to work with my mom, I get to stay home with my dad. Man is that great. I get to sleep in, chase squirrels in our big back yard, and lay in the sun when I get tired. We live close to several parks with walking trails, where I love to run. Night time walks and weekend runs are my favorite. It’s so beautiful here. When you look around you can see the pure beauty of creation; we’re lucky. We don’t have to look at skyscrapers or smell stinky air. It’s just trees and lakes and beautiful people.
Strong, stoic, a wolf at heart, Karen wowed me with her smile and calmed me with her centered presence. A warm Spring day and cold Lake Bemidji were our backdrop. We talked and I snapped pictures. Karen did one yoga pose after another, making them look effortless. Years of experience and teaching give her this advantage. Well known around town we stopped often to chat with people passing by. Fun, energy, lover of life – this is the impression I was left with, what impression does Karen give you?
This is Karen F:
It’s not about me loving Bemidji, it’s more about Bemidji loving me! Both sets of paternal Great Grandparents came from Sweden and settled in Guthrie so I’ve always had roots and relatives in the area. My earliest memories of Bemidji are of “going to town” with my grandparents. Grandpa brought milk to the creamery and Grandma, the Guthrie Reporter, handed in news to The Pioneer. I often made news; “Karen Lillquist, Bud’s girl, rode the Greyhound from Minneapolis to visit Art and Irene at home. She attended Ladies Aide, played with cousins, and rode her horse.” I thought I was famous in Bemidji. I still do….. I kind of am.
I didn’t plan on living up north permanently and even after 3 decades I sometimes feel like its time to go back to city life. Bemidji is a vacation place and I’m allergic to pine trees. Yet the reality is I live in a log house surrounded by them in a picture perfect setting on the lake. I still “go to town” weekly and when not teaching Yoga I can be found hanging out at Harmony Food Co-op. I can also be found dancing on the side wall of Harmony in a mural with local friends. Bemidji is a haven for talented artists. Like Al Belleveau who instigated our Sculpture Walk. For my 50th birthday he plastered me and created a blue dancing statue which is often part of the Walk. I used to put sweaters on it and once it wore Winona LaDuke’s old jingle dress. Bemidji is full of comedy.
I transferred to Bemidji State College in the mid 1970’s and loved it. BSU is an integral part of the town and brings in extraordinary people. Like Art Prof Marley Kaul who at that time had us painting BIG, or Art Lee who brought History alive better than the History Chanel. I performed with a Modern Dance Troupe on campus, rode my bike everywhere, played volleyball in backyards, and frequented The Union Station, Beaver Pond, Viking, and Jacks. Bemidji was full of bars with dance bands back then. As a former West Bank Hippie I had to live somewhere with live music. I became a Known Only Locally groupie. KOL recently serenaded my husband in front of our fireplace on his 60th birthday. An example of what makes Bemidji magical.
I got a job after graduation as Bemidji’s first Adult Day Care Director. Local elderly shared stories of lumberjacking, teaching in one room schools, working on the railroad and farming. Historically people have worked hard in Bemidji. My next job brought me to the controversial Counseling Associates, an outpatient Treatment Center that served the area and eventually clients from all over the country. I learned that Bemidji is a place of healing. I’ve helped people heal and have healed here myself. I’ve had to be flexible and creative in my career as jobs are hard to come by in our town. I jumped at artistic opportunities when they arose. Like choreographing dance for huge casts of kids and teaching them Creative Movement. I got to be in on turning the local funeral home into a Music and Arts Center. Talk about transformation! Bemidji feels stuck to me at times and other times I’m awed by the opportunities that arise. There are big parades, events where folks jump into freezing water, dragon boat races and roller derby to name a few. If nothing is going on you can go to The Wild Hare. I’m there now. It’s full of beautiful paintings and I’m full of great food. Cool people too, I just visited with an Olympic Curler soon to be a neighbor. You can always find someone interesting to talk to.
Nothing is more boring than rattling off your children’s achievements so I’ll just highlight a few unique opportunities they experienced while growing up in Bemidji; Speech contests and advanced placement classes. Nordic skiing that led to future collegiate championship. Show choir performance that won awards. Attendance at our Alternative Learning Center! I danced with my daughter for 10 years at Diane’s Dance. Attended excellent music recitals and sporting events. Bemidji’s kids are incredible. I know a ton of them. Many of them leave….and lots of them come back.
I’ve also had unique opportunities myself and sometimes wonder, if I had left Bemidji would I have participated in so many GROUPS? Twelve step. Folk choir, Pounders, Northern School Parent Volunteers, Bemidji Parent Network (coined Narcwork by my son), Artworks, Bemidji Babes, Zen Buddhists, The Gasman Crew; I am eternally grateful to Greg for casting me as a Tormentor in Jesus Christ Superstar, my claim to fame. We delivered seasons of divine performance that Bemidji nor our cast will ever forget. Bemidji fought to save the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, it’s a local landmark.
We also have Paul and Babe, Lobo the wolf, and Chief Bemidji. Indian Country surrounds us. I would not be happy without the presence of the Anishinabe whom I have had the great honor to both teach and learn from. I often work on the rez and have made lifelong friends crossing cultural lines. I sometimes feel the spirits of the First People on the shores of the Mississipi River where I live reminding me that our land is sacred. My life partner and husband John reminds me as well. He left NY for clean air, water and space. We fell in love in Bemidji and made it our home. Our nest is empty now and I’m traveling a lot to study and teach Yoga, my true calling. When I’m asked to describe where I live I can barely do it! What can I say….college town, regional hub, tourist area? It’s not about what people do here, its more about WHY people stay here being that it’s BRRRRmidji more than not. I’m convinced it has to do with being loved.
Somewhere between roller derby practice, judging performances for a music scholarship, child’s theater practice, classes, workshops, and meetings, Cate whittled out a bit of time for me. I met Cate for the first time at The Wild Rose Theater in downtown Bemidji. Trying to keep up with Ms. Belleveau and snap pictures at the same time was, to say the least, a challenge. One can not help but feel her constantly creating, it seems to be second nature for her. A buzz of activity and energy Cate’s spirit fills a room.
An athletic 8th grader traveling with her Wisconsin based family on a trip around Lake Superior and its environs was told “ Haul out everyone we need a break and this grassy lake front seems perfect!”
Six kids were stuffed in a baby blue Ford station wagon and welcomed rolling down the grassy hills that came to a pleasant stop at the shores of Lake Bemidji. After picnicking on that sunny August day and doing the “Cheese Smile” at the statues of Paul & Babe , we continued on to Lake Itasca. That would be a must-see if one was visiting northern Minnesota. Now, who would have ever in their wildest imaginings have guessed that this little basketball jock young woman could have waved a good bye kiss to Bemidji.
“ Hey, I will be back in 9 years and eventually make you my home … I will fall in love with a man who was living like Thoreau. I will open a woman’s theater collective in that old brick building across from where I rolled down the hill giggling with my siblings . I will work hard with my husband to put public art on the streets. I will strive to keep small town Bemidji alive in a way that only the arts can imbue to a sense of place . I will direct a Shakespeare Fest on your shore lines. During a production of Pippi Longstocking, pirates will come by boat in a kids’ show in the warm August sun. The same sun I remembered from when I ate sandwiches with family way back when. I will play opposite the mayor of this fair city in a theatrical show about ice fishing right on the lake in January. I will even race across glittering waters with an all female team for the Dragon Boat Festival .”
I love Bemidji for the arts community , the natural world , the “small time feel like I know people” ethos , and the sense of humor about itself .
Where else could we have raised our children who have moved to large cities ( DC, NYC, Montreal ) who now have memories of the screaming man coming up the driveway yelling “AAAAAAAL”. That would turn out to be three baby bear cubs wailing at 4:00 AM in the birch tree out front of the house . We have stopped in our tracks and listened to gray wolves howl which sent the hair vertical on our arms .
There is the kayaking on lakes where no one lives , the skiing by open water in Three Island Park, and snowshoeing on our own 120 acres of mixed woods, swamps and beaver ponds . There are the morel mushrooms, Springtime maple syrup, gardening all summer, mosquitoes, wood ticks, wood heat all winter long , sunsets, and aurora borealis.
This area has given me the joy of being publicly hugged by dozens of Native American children I have served on the Red Lake and Leech Lake Indian Reservations as I walk through Target and they spot me .
I am a gypsy always wanting to move on, move on and have traveled to Japan, Germany, 50 states and Canada, New Zealand, Nepal , Britain, France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Italy, Greece. I always want to explore more, learn more, understand more and yet I always return home to Bemidji.
My ashes will be scattered in my spiritual home, Heaven’s Peak in Glacier National Park, but what a blessing Bemidji has been. For now – home, in the best sense …
Home is love ,
self- actualization as an artist,
aesthetic beauty and
I found David quite by accident. I knew I wanted a logger to be part of my project. But, how does one find a logger? After all they work in the woods. I happened across a site, took a chance and scrawled a note on a piece of paper and stuck it on the truck at the site. I was praying he didn’t think me crazy. Instead, he called me. He was excited. See, David knows he has a story, and he was ready to tell it. To me this is the best kind of story; one of a life well lived, and lived simply.
The day I took David’s pictures it was his 63rd birthday. He was ready to go and had everything planned to make my experience easier. What he may not have known is I loved being out in the woods. I could have stayed all day; the trees, the smells, the quiet taken over by one lone chainsaw.
David has a story, here it is:
I grew up on a farm near Guthrie. My first involvement with the timber industry was my brother and I cutting aspen off our family farm to sell to the Nu Ply plant in Bemidji. We used our Ford farm tractor and a two wheel trailer loading and unloading all the wood by hand. After we had stacked the cut pulpwood in a place a truck could reach we hired a logger who had a truck to haul it to NuPly.
After graduating from high school I continued to log some in the same way and also to work for loggers who had more specialized equipment. Until I graduated from the University of Minnesota, Forestry school, spring 1970; I worked weekends and breaks logging for myself or for loggers to pay my way through school. By the time I graduated I knew I really enjoyed logging. The development of rubber tired skidders and hydraulic log loaders had taken the backbreaking labor out of the process and made it possible to log more difficult terrain. However, before I could start logging full time I had a military obligation to fulfill.
The four years I spent in the Air Force strongly reinforced my desire to choose my own work and the place I would live. I logged whenever I got leave and I did purchase a used skidder while I was still in the Air Force. As April 18, 1975 approached I was eager to get back to Minnesota to:
Be close to family.
Do work that I enjoyed where I could see the results of my efforts.
Be outdoors every day.
“Be my own boss”!
In April 1975, I started logging full time mostly working as a one man crew. I followed the same model of operation we used as kids on the farm, do the work to get the wood to roadside and then hire the trucking. This is still the way I do things and it has permitted me to do the work I really enjoy.
In March 1980, I married another person involved in the timber industry, Barbara Lundmark. Barbara worked in her father Roy Lundmark’s timber dealership. I had sold Roy wood since 1967 and had known Barbara since I returned from the Air Force. We moved to a location halfway between our previous homes when we got married and my address became Bemidji as hers had been. Barbara continued to run the business for her parents until April 2001, when she and I became co-owners. We continue to operate the business though at a very reduced size due to the loss of mills in our area.
My logging operation is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the heavily mechanized crews that have become the norm. One man with a small grapple skidder, a pickup and several chainsaws comprise the entire operation. Felling, delimbing and cutting into the various products is accomplished with chainsaws. Building roads, skidding the wood from the woods to the landing, sorting into various products and piling for truck pickup is accomplished with the grapple skidder. The pickup carries fuel for the skidder, chainsaws and of course the crew.
In the last fifteen years I have cut mostly private timber combining my forestry education and my logging to help landowners develop a long term plan for their timber and then implement that plan. It is very rewarding to be able to see the results of the work we have done and to be able to share the increase in value that the work has created.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to live in an area I love, to do work that I love.
What if someone never leaves their hometown? Do you consider them stuck? Or are they blessed to have been born into the town they were meant to live in?
Lisa W. is one of the first people I see on my days in town. A quick stop into Harmony Co-op for my Certified Organic Free Trade $1 cup of coffee serves more as a recharge of the spirit than a hot beverage. Seeing Lisa there stocking the fruits and vegetables is a kind of comfort to me. The contentment of her face made me want to know her story, maybe you will find it interesting also. Do you think she got stuck?
This is Lisa:
Bemidji’s my hometown. I was born in the nursing home right off Bemidji Avenue which used to be the area’s main hospital. I graduated from Bemidji Middle School, Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University, got married (and divorced, and married again, ahem) in the Bemidji courthouse, had a baby in the “new” Bemidji Hospital, and landed a job in downtown Bemidji at a our only community owned grocery store. You get the gist. I’m one of those: a local. Not a seventh-generation indigenous local or a third generation Scandinavian-settler local, but the kind of local that was simply born here and feels Bemidji in her blood.
The question most hometown people get, from my experience, is ‘why didn’t you ever leave? Or ‘what made you stay?’ as if it was a one time decision made at a vulnerable moment rather than a complex string of choices made around a central…..vision, perhaps, or set of values. In this hyper-mobile world, it is rare when one stays put; much less by choice.
But being a hometown gal means that basically many, if not most of my ‘firsts’ happened here. That gives some major psychic influence to a place. It’s like a familiar smell that brings you back to your grandmother’s bathroom; this geographical space within which complex patterns of memory neurons form. For instance, the Chief Theater was where I saw my first “R” rated movie, Excalibur, with a boy I liked so much I almost peed my pants at the thought of us eating out of the same popcorn tub. (We didn’t.) It was also the place I acted on stage for the first time when it became home to the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. (More firsts: my first case of pathological stage fright; my first ceilingless high at successfully delivering a line.)
My first case of swimmers itch happened when I was ten, swimming with my sister in Lake Bemidji (she was 14 months older; she toweled off). My first job was at T’Juans which afforded me my first car, the first boy who would ever break my heart, and, ironically…years later, the first guy who would ever figure out how to mend it. (Different guys, same restaurant.)
But regardless of my own personal ‘psychic influences’ that anchor me to this little rural village in northern Minnesota, Bemidji is a place in it’s own right; not just the place I had my first meeting with life, but a place that exudes a certain quality of life. Not ‘quality of life’ kind of quality; that term is used very broadly these days. Rather, more a felt-sense of ‘living’ that is able to happen here, between these lakes, inset along this river, amongst the meeting of cultures and traditions, under these forests, within these habitats, and withstanding this very extreme climate. This is the reason so many of us stay here, or come here, or return here; this indescribable magnetism that a certain number of us feel…in our blood.
Perhaps it is as simple as the natural beauty of the landscape, though I think the harsh winters would deter the average aesthetic-minded traveler from settling here. Perhaps it is the university; the odd placement of academia within a hard-working rural farming and logging community. Perhaps it is the collective memory of the pre-settlement culture which keeps alive the spirit of the place in art, and dance, and story. And even, perhaps, it’s the sense of cultural woundedness and historic oppression that hangs in the air as an invisible invitation for healing.
But more likely, it’s all of these things, plus.
What exact thing it is for me, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s been a choice made between this place and me. Bemidji calls forth the values I hold on family, on beauty, on hardiness and complexity, health, determination, resilience, history, and community. I guess I answer this call by keeping it alive in story, by choosing to stay and work and build and flourish in the community I’m called to, and by realizing that the big, wide world exists right where I open my eyes.
Your Mom’s Tattoo Atelier
I walked into Mike’s business, a cold call. I had nothing but an idea. I nervously explained how I wanted to collect the stories of people who live in Bemidji; people who loved living here. Because, everyone has a story, I want to know what they are- don’t you? Mike listened, smiled, and agreed. He agreed to the project. I had no site, I didn’t even have my camera with me. Just off the street. I came into his shoppe and was made right at home. A man gifted in his work using few words, rather speaking through his inks. An artist. You have a story, everyone walking the streets of Bemidji has a story, so does he. What is it? Join me, Julie Saari as we find out.
A hometown boy who left, only to return to the very town that had once stifled him. Leaving showed Mike who he was. Returning allowed him to become that person. This is the story of Michael Wiltse:
I am originally from Bemidji, MN. I was born in the mid-seventies and grew up in the downtown region of Bemidji. As a child I never really liked Bemidji that much, I suppose it was because of youth dreams of other places. As I went through High School my desire to leave this town was at it’s peak. I was eager to travel on and see what else the world would offer. As I moved away there was a sense of relief that finally I was free to fill my life with new experiences. All of which I had in my mind to someday tell my childhood friends, not understanding that I would have to return in order to tell them. After a stint in the service, heavy romances, tattoo apprenticeship, mixed with a bit trouble, I finally came home to be married to a beautiful Finnish girl named Erja Taskinen. I have come full circle to move home, to start a family, and a business. I reached an event horizon in my life and began to see my hometown with a mature light. I find Bemidji is filled with the comforts of my past and the past of my peers. I looked at the town as a whole family of different types of people. All of us trying to make a living in one of the coldest places in the United States I can truly say that I am honored to be a part of the heritage of Bemidji. We may not like each other sometimes, but we won’t let you down in times of need.
I would like to bring to Bemidji the time honored American Style of tattooing, as well as a progressive movement in the arts for the region. Bemidji is filled with artists and it’s wonderful to see more culture in the region. With all the worries that people have it is nice to know that Bemidjians can express themselves in a more positive manner. Since tattoos have become mainstream Bemidji has become home to three tattoo shops. During my years of tattooing, I decided that when I would open my tattoo shop it would be in Bemidji. I figured the home field advantage would be a good place to start a business. After tattooing in Ireland for a year, I met my future wife Erja. When I moved home I began to get my business on the start, so that when Erja arrived we could get married. My business was named Your Mom’s Tattoo Atelier. I thought of the name while working in Duluth at Tats by Zap, and I figured it would be perfect for the town of Bemidji. People love their mom, I love my mom, and so I named it after everyone’s mom. Plus you can tell people you received a tattoo at Your Mom’s. So hopefully I will make in the annals of Bemidji, MN as the guy that brought progressive art scene to Bemidji. You Never Know.
Written by Michael Wiltse
Mike’s Time Line:
Ireland – 2005 where he met his future bride
Return to Bemidji –2007
Opened shop Jan. ’08