A Column in a Newspaper that Doesn’t Exist

This column was originally printed in the December 24, 2014, edition of the Elmer Springs Tribune, a regional newspaper from the western edge of Minnesota . It is reprinted here without the permission of the author.

We’re Living in a Russian Novel

The small-town newspaper column is where old writers go to die, their worldly musings increasingly less-worldly, their quarter-page a glorified booth at the diner. I know other columnists who’ve lost their minds expecting too much from this medium, but I’m not delusional: this is filler. I don’t expect a damn one of you to read this.

From where I write, Elmer Springs is a pale glow through winter fog, and as the long arms of night stretch across the road, I feel as though I could be anywhere. In fact, as my little wood stove crackles and growls against the cold, I feel like I’m living in a Russian novel. Having grown up here, I know all about Elmer Springs’ generational conflict. I know its class tensions (though in a city whose per capita income is less than the state and national averages, antagonisms exist only between the have-nots and have-lesses). Instead of St. Petersburg and Moscow, we have Minneapolis and St. Paul, cities our little state representative decries for its excesses but insists having the right to visit every two years. Whether any of us are Utopians or Anarchists is as much dependent on the number of ducks in the pond as any coherent political philosophy.

Perhaps there’s a story here, but I have no ambition to be my generation’s Tolstoy.

It’s unlikely to be a white Christmas this year. Fifteen minutes from Main Street, the fields are still black with upturned sod (evidence of soybeans), and the buffers between them and the wet roads are matted strips of brown grass. In the shadows of the land’s curves is evidence of last week’s snow, hidden stones of ice. When I go out to the shed to fetch wood, even at night when I’m following my own footprints in frost, there’s not a thing here I find harsh or unforgiving. But remember how I said this feels like a Russian novel?

I miss the prairie, and when I think of what this land used to be, I wonder how many men see their fathers in a landscape and what that says about their relentless desire to dam a river, blow up a mountain, and poison the soil.

But I’m no Tolstoy.

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