All posts by jkohnhorst

I am one of a zillion writers living in Saint Paul, MN. I have an agency background and a checkered past flirting with journalism. This blog is a place to see some of the work I am most proud of.

Zion

Zion National Park. It was named Zion by an early Mormon settler who regarded that one could worship as well in this cathedral in any on earth. The name that had previously been attributed was Mukuntuweap, a Paiute word which is roughly  translated as “straight valley.” I’m partial to the Mormon name, surprisingly. It suits the place.

The Zion Canyon floor is a shocking, fertile green basin at the base of a jumble of mountains that huddle around it like a protective fortress. It’s the meeting point of three major geographical areas: the Great Basin to the West, the Mojave to the Southwest, and the Colorado Plateau to the East. Subsequently, it is a wild looking place. Wild in the sense of being untamed, untamable – and wild in the sense that it’s singularity causes one to stand gobsmacked on the canyon floor with their mouth hanging open.

As a National Park, Zion is an impressive operation. Most of the trails are accessible via a system of park shuttles, so as to keep the nearly 3 million annual visitors from clogging the canyon with their rented RVs. Adam noted that the amount of love and dedication it would take to make a place like this accessible is truly astounding, and I agree. There is a vast wilderness and back-country in Zion that I’ll never know, but truly, I’m just grateful for the chance to enter the temple, as it were.

The east side of the park is accessible only via a one-mile, unlit, two-lane  tunnel with no shoulder. One arrives at this tunnel by a series of switchbacks that snake impressively up a canyon wall gaining about 600 feet in 5 minutes. I was surprised to find that I had a white-knuckle fear of such roads. Adam was driving, but he was also so completely awed by the scenery he would lean forward in his seat and peer upward out the windshield, instead of IN FRONT OF THE CAR on the spectacularly curvy road. In a move that might be familiar to many road-tripping couples there was an abrupt turn-off along the road followed by the invective, “YOU DRIVE”, and a huffy me adjusting seat and mirrors and taking us through the horrifying tunnel and across to the east side of the park for a hike.

The Canyon Overlook trailhead is just past the tunnel, and as we laced up I watched the sky gathering clouds and frowned. We started on the trail, which is almost completely uphill, with Adam in the lead, the kids in the middle, and me following behind. If I try to remember the hike all I remember is my own accelerated breathing, and the image of Ivan’s heels on sand covered rock (extremely slippery!!), on a ledge approximately a billion feet from the ground. With each step my need to vomit increased. All around families passed me, toddlers (TODDLERS!) passed me, happily confident that they wouldn’t plummet to their death. After ten minutes I shouted to Adam,  “I can’t do it! It’s not fun! I hate it!” Everyone assured me it was ok, and Ivan came back to the car with me since he was feeling tired anyway, leaving Adam and Veronica to sally forth.

Ivan waited in the car and played on my phone while I paced and watched the sky with mounting anxiety. When I heard thunder, I actually simpered. I was so disappointed with myself. Where was the carefree adventurer of my youth? I can only surmise she disappeared when I had children. I think if it had just been me, I could have grimaced through it, but my nervousness with the kids would only have made it a misery for everyone. Finally Adam and V. came bounding off the trail, Adam ecstatic, Veronica flush with the cool air and sense of achievement. She was beaming and mugging with Adam about their daring little expedition, the happiest I had seen her in days.

We headed back down canyon and spent the rest of the drizzly afternoon in Springdale picking out the perfect rocks to lug home in our suitcases. We had been told to go to Oscar’s, a tasty little restaurant that carried the infamous Palygamy Porter. I ordered the IPA. When Adam tasted it and grimaced, Veronica wanted to know why. We let her try a sip of each, another audacious act for the day. And as she ordered “The Murder Burger” and proceeded to devour it, I realized the daring girl I had once been was sitting across the table from me, having the time of her life.

Snow Canyon State Park, St George, Utah – August 23, 2014

We drove up from Vegas as if we were fleeing the city. We were, in fact, escaping the buffet of desperate folly at the center of the city. It took us hours to get out of town: stops to buy a cooler, to get groceries, pump gas, eat bagels. It was endless, and as we turned, finally, onto Hwy 15 North, we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

We had flown into Vegas because it is relatively cheap. We were interested in accessing the Grand Staircase, as they call it, in Southern Utah – a patchwork of national parks that protects nearly half the state from private use. Now, after a one-day recoup in Vegas, we were headed towards what we came for – whatever it might look like. We had a room booked in St. George, a sleepy retirement town that the guidebook had described as “a good jumping off point for Zion”. The rates were good and there was a pool. It looked as if we might make it there by three o-clock check in.

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Highway 15, Photo credit: Dr. Sing H. Lin, whose blog I found on the internets and who had the good sense to take a picture when I did not.

Adam and I were in a state of perpetual wonder, yelling, “look out the window!” to the backseat every ten minutes. Then we realized if we rolled down the window, suddenly, it scared them into attention. The mountains at first were distant, a muddy red, and the landscape was definitely desert. Cacti we wanted to believe were Joshua Trees sprang up out of the dust. There were sad looking casinos at random intervals, and then, briefly, we were in Arizona and we began to climb, and wind our way through the Virgin River Gorge. It’s a spectacular 20 mile drive carved through striated cliffs that is allegedly one of the most expensive highway projects ever completed. You begin to see the first hints of the Utah sandstone, and the cracked monumental stone that typifies Zion. It’s the place where the topology of the Mojave gives way to the insanity of the Colorado Plateau.

When we arrived in St George, there was a race finish line set up in our hotel’s carport. It was the finish of a 400 mile bike ride. While I found this at least a little intimidating, I also thought it a bit crazy, a bit excessive. We were pleased to see a quartet of German tourists outfitted with Harleys, in full leathers, bandanas and Harley Davidson t-shirts also staying at our hotel. We unpacked and I exiled the children to wander the hotel while Adam and I napped. It was too late, we decided, to make it to Zion, but it was a Sunday, and we would hike, dammit.

The author of our guidebook harbored intense disdain for St. George, saying, “to find anything that might interest you, you have to leave St. George and head 20 miles northwest to Snow Canyon Sate Park”. Well, good.

HECK YEAH JENNY CANYON!
HECK YEAH JENNY CANYON!

We paid for a day pass and collected a trail map. The very first trailhead promised a short hike ending in a small slot canyon, Jenny’s Canyon, it turned out. Taking our first steps into the fine red sand of the Utah desert was a queer thing. Such a different terrain than we had grown accustomed to. And rather than a trail winding through a corridor of trees, the desert and the sky spread out on all sides, giving you an unobstructed view of the horizon line nearly all the time. Ivan stopped to sift the sand through his fingers, and Veronica walked confidently ahead of the us, undaunted. How wonderfully bold children are. I was unnerved by the landscape, and overly-awed by the orange of the rock, the blue of the sky, the dryness of the air. I took photos and ambled along.

The slot canyon was cool inside, and had good outcroppings for climbing. We also found a good spot to shout and hear our voices echo off the walls of the cliffs. After messing around for a while, we headed back to the car. We drove another mile or so to a trailhead marked Petrified Sand Dunes. And so they were. The rich red sand Ivan had let run through his fingers was here frozen into rolling mounds of variegated rock. A short trail led into the slick rock where you could easily climb, and scramble if necessary, as far as the eye could see. Eventually, we crossed a rise with a small, steep canyon on the backside. The sun was setting, and the wind was arid and steady. The only family we had passed in the parking area were out of sight, so we were quite alone up there. Adam sat to meditate, and so we sat, Veronica and Ivan and I, looking down on the canyon filled with sage and Juniper trees. A blue scrub jay swooped into the canyon and disappeared amongst the trees. It took my breath away. I put my arms around the children and hoped they would remember this moment. It’s rare, but I felt for a moment, in bringing them to a place of such rare and splendid beauty, like a good mom. It was my favorite Sunday hike so far.

A short hike, in drizzling rain, along the Mississippi – August 17, 2014

That more or less sums it up.

Isn’t this map beautiful though? I love the gentle dip and curve of the river, coursing through the grid of streets.
Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 8.56.48 PMThe same area is mapped in below, in a 1906 map from The New Encyclopedic Atlas and Gazetteer of the World.
Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.04.56 PMAnd again in this beautiful commissioned watercolor map done by John Jager for the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company in 1904.
1280px-051907-010-Minneapolis1904Finally, this map shows the area  from quite a different angle. The image is from a flyby, a visual representation “as seen by the Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) instrument. The shortwave infrared (TM band 5), infrared (TM band 4), and visible green (TM band 2) channels are displayed in the images as red, green, and blue respectively. In this combination, barren and/or recently cultivated land appears red to pink, vegetation appears green, water is dark blue, and artificial structures of concrete and asphalt appear dark grey or black.” Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 11.23.30 PMThere is the video from which this is taken. It’s fascinating. Thanks NASA, you’re rad.

Along the Kinnickinnic River, River Falls, August 10, 2014

Hiking each week is easy, relative to writing about the hike. Hence the great delay.

We drove to River Falls to pick up an old friend of Adam’s, a fellow Buddhist, and he took us on a hike in the dense and mostly deciduous woods that hug the banks of the Kinnickinnic River. The woods are, as woods go, unremarkable. But that name! The rhythmic clack of it: Kinnickinnic, Kinnickinnic, Kinnickinnic. Like a train.

The walk itself was trying, for the kids and I. The trail was hilly. It spilled downhill to the muddy banks of the river, which smelled cool and sparkled in dappled sunlight, then wound back up into the still, humid green of the forest. And the it did that again.

Adam and his friend strode  ahead. The kids grew weary, and so did I. The trail was narrow, and the woods were close, and it was all quite sticky. But we were good humored enough about it. We came to a clearing at the top of one hill, and the path opened up to a park. As we rounded a corner, Adam was hugging his friend, smiling, and saying how glad he was of something or another. I didn’t want to eavesdrop. But the hug and the gladness both being achieved, I took that as a signal to loop back to the car.

We dropped Adam’s friend back at his house, and had lunch at a small diner in downtown River Falls. We learned that truly, one man’s taco salad is another man’s nachos. Sated, we drove on to Menomonie, Wisconsin. (another good name) One of my oldest friends, Sarah, lives there with her family, in an idyllic farmhouse on a bucolic piece of land that that backs up to a river. We celebrated her son Rowan’s tenth birthday, and he opened our gift to him, which was cake tips and pastry bags, and we ate Sarah’s amazing food, and cheesecake, and went for a short walk down the road with the dogs. We left the kids with them, they were having a summer visit for a few days, leaving Adam and I to drive alone, westward in the fading light. Spent, we listened to poetry and spoke little.

 

 

 

Lebanon Hills Regional Park – August 3, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 11.49.28 PMWell, to my mind, I’ve uncovered the reason for Eagan’s existence. It’s to house this lovely park with it’s many lakes, trails, trees, mushrooms and animals. Everything you want from a pile of nature just a twenty minute drive from the city –  it’s all easily accessible on the gentle, rolling trails of Lebanon Hills. We just scratched the surface, covering about three miles via the Jensen Lake Trailhead. The trails are well marked and you are presented with options to explore, all primarily lush, shady and easy to navigate. I can hardly wait to go back in the fall when the colors are changing.

On the Mike with Susan Fellner

Screen Shot 2012-10-22 at 4.51.23 PMThe following transcript is of a never aired interview featuring public radio personality Susan Fellner interviewing obscure the obscure country western flash-in-the-pan singer songwriter Tammy Rae. Despite recording only one EP on the Spyco record label, Tammy Rae’s stormy relationship with the historically reclusive producer Ganderson made her an intriguing interview subject.

Susan Fellner: Today we’re going to pick the brain of a most unlikely country-western front-woman. Singer and songwriter Tammy Rae rose from complete to relative obscurity after her debut album “Peppermint and Cigarettes”. Along with her band The Aquanets, Tammy Rae sings songs with a melodic and lyric simplicity that is reminiscent of classic country, with a biting autobiographical edge. Welcome to On the Mic, Tammy Rae.
TR: Well thank you so much Susan, I’m just pleased as peach to be here.
SF: Tammy, the story goes that you were working in the lingerie department at Sears when you started writing and singing songs, and that you were 38 years old.
TR: Yeah, well, we call it Intimate Apparel but that’s about right. I’d fooled around with writing, and picked up a guitar before a few times, but I didn’t start writing music until I was pretty much over the hill. All my heroes, June Carter, Loretta, Dolly, Patsy… they were all discovered very young. Well, when I was their age, I was just honky tonkin and moving around. I loved music, and I hung around a lot of musicians. But I never fancied myself one. I kept a diary, and I wrote a lot of poems, but I didn’t even consider it. And then, you know, I had my two precious babies and I was just focused on raising them alone.
SF: Did you sing to your children?
TR: You know, I used to sing to my daughter to try to put her to sleep when she was just a wee thing, and that little firecracker covered up my mouth with her hand! But I sang all the time at home. And in the car. Music was an important part of our lives together, we always sang. And of course both of their father’s were musicians, thought they never met them. My son’s daddy was a trumpet player, and my little girl’s pa played bass.
SF: Are they well-known musicians?
TR: Hmm, I’ve signed a waiver that prevents me from saying.
SF: Oh, well. How did you get started then? When you met your songwriting partner Travis Ritter? How did you meet?
TR: We were sitting in neighboring bar stools, and we started talking drinking gin and talking about music. I found out he was a session guitarist for this little record label I’d always liked, Spyco records. And the more gin we drank, I just felt like singing, and we stepped outside and I let loose on some old song and he joined in. We were fast friends.
SF: Did he suggest that you start writing lyrics?
TR: Well yes, he did. I was always talking, I like to talk a lot. And he just started saying “T-Rae (he calls me T-Rae) you oughta write that down.” So I started to, and I’d bring in my little ideas and some melody I half plucked from the air and half stole from Emmylou Harris, and he thought they weren’t half bad. Finally we drank enough beer to put down a demo.
SF: And did he introduce you to the head of Spyco?
TR: He did, we played him our demo. And Ganderson was not impressed. His opinion was like “This chick is beat. She’s too old and she’s kind of a mess”, I’m no beauty queen you know. And so he said, maybe we can have someone else record this, but he was not interested in signing me.
SF: We’ll hear how Tammy Rae eventually got signed, and more about her band the Aquanets, after this break, on Beyond the Mic. 
STATION BREAK
SF: Welcome back. So Tammy, how did you eventually get signed to Spyco Records then?
TR: Well, I harassed Ganderson relentlessly, and called him up and sang over the phone for weeks. But he always hung up.  So then I broke into his house in the middle of the night.
SF: Really? How?
TR: Oh simple. With the heel of my shoe. And as soon as I was in, I started talking real loud,- I was a little drunk – but I didn’t want him to think I was a robber, and I’m fumbling through the dark and yelling “Come on out here Ganderson you son of a bitch and I’m gonna sing you a song!” Well, he comes out in his just his little briefs waving a damned 45 around saying “Who the hell?!” And then he saw it was me but he didn’t put the gun down or nothing. So I just started singing with him standing there. I wasn’t scared. He wasn’t gonna shoot me, I’m a damned single mother for god’s sake. Anyway, I finished and he said “Tammy if I let you cut an album, will you leave me the hell alone?” And I said would.
SF: What song was it?
TR: I have no damn idea.
SF: And how is your relationship with Ganderson now?
TR: Well, I never really have left him alone. But he aint shot me. Yet.
SF: I’ve heard you have an unorthodox writing method.
TR: Well Travis Ritter is my main man. I call him up and sing into his answering machine. Then he writes and arranges all the music. I mean, I come up with the basic melody, but he’s the one that makes it come to life. He lays down some tracks, and the next time I come over, we work it out together.
SF: We have one of those recordings. Do you mind if we listen to it?
TR: Did Travis give you that? Why that little… oh Lord, fine sure. It’ll be a hoot.
SF: OK, lets roll that, and then we’ll hear the finished recording.
[Travis, answering machine] Hi, this is Travis. If this is that crazy bitch Tanya Tucker, unless you got my two hundred dollars, I don’t wanna hear it. Everyone else, wait for the beep:
[15 seconds of shitty demo.]
[30 seconds of real song.]
TR: Whooee, I sure am lucky for the miracles of modern recording.
SF: Tell me about the Aquanets.
TR: Well they’re just a great bunch of guys. Travis plays guitar, and he produces the music. And he sings harmony with me, got a voice sweet as syrup that one. Then we got Earl on bass. Earl Potter. He’s quiet like, but real sweet. And of course there’s Cyrus, the drummer. Cyrus Jawbone. I don’t think that’s his real name. He’s just a big old bear but he sings like a damn angel. They’re just a bunch of old softies is what they are. And a real tight band.
SF: Any plans for a follow up album?
TR: Working on it all the time. After the Drunk Cities Tour. And all this promotion for Peppermint and Cigarettes is tripping me up. It’s like laundry, you just never finish.
SF: Well thank you for your time Tammy Rae. It’s been a pleasure.
TR: Oh the pleasure is mine Susan, I assure you.
SF: And that’s it for On the Mic.

15 minutes at Taylor’s Falls – July 27, 2014

The kids bobbed along the trail with their umbrellas up, snagging on low branches and careening into each other, blocking the steady stream of hikers headed down the trail. We were headed INTO the forest, along the river, while everyone was clearly headed out. As we reached a clearing at the top of a hill, where the trail runs next to the road for a bit, the rain began to pour in earnest – large drops with impressive velocity. Adam called my name, and as I turned to see him gripping both sides of his hat with his hands and squinting through sheets of rain, he shouted, “I think it’s time to pack it in!” I felt sort of inclined to keep going, sort of compelled to go crazy, but you have to know when you’re beat. So we turned heel and marched back down the trail to the car.

Since we were in the area, we hopped over to Wisconsin to visit Saint Croix Falls, and one of my favorite places, Red Bird Music, a musty basement cave of a place with a modest supply of overpriced (but often great) vinyl, and a fine variety of string instruments. The place is crowded with potted plants, art, flyers of long past shows, and 1970’s audio equipment. Ivan and Adam played every instrument in the store, while Veronica and I idly flipped through records. A gray cat with some kind of thinning hair affliction rested on top of the records. The owner of the store is catlike in that he is quiet, nearly invisible, and while he does not mind your presence, it is definitely not required, maybe not even preferred.

Still soggy, we headed to the car, and back to the Minnesota side of the river. As we turned south onto highway 95, Ivan spotted the sign to Franconia and shouted “FRANCONIA!!”, and Adam turned to me shrugging his shoulders, and I shrugged mine, and we turned into the gravel parking lot. Franconia is a 25-acre sculpture park with an ever-evolving collection of large-scale sculpture in a wide variety of mediums. It is also one of my favorite places. It’s audacious in it’s scope and vision. The art itself is at turns beautiful, funny, absurd, haunting, monstrous and confounding. The kids ran straight to the jungle gym, and I took a picture of a young couple. We didn’t stay long, didn’t even walk all the way around the park, with Ivan riding piggy-back on Veronica, we headed back home.

On the way back to Saint Paul as I was nodding off to sleep, I felt Adam’s warm hand on my knee, and opened my eyes to look at him. He wore the look of tired, true love. I smiled at him and closed my eyes. One of the reasons we decided to hike each week was to prepare for a week-long vacation in the Southwest at the end of summer. And this day with its idle time-killing, ambling observation and dashed expectations – to be smiling at the end of this day is, as the Chinese say, auspicious.

 

Ponderous

Grief is like ripples in a pond. In the beginning, the waves are intense and close together. The first week, your eyes are  permanently swollen from crying.  As soon as you stop, something happens that starts it all over again. You’re nauseous from the rocking of the boat, it’s so ceaseless and steady.

Then, as time passes, the waves grow more faint, and less intense.  It tends to surprise you, when you least expect it. Maybe you’re driving along in your car and hear a song, or a phrase, and there you are with fresh tears on your face. You might have to sit in the parking garage and cry a bit, but it feels almost good to grieve anew. To let the wave wash over you and recede, and find yourself still standing.

Finally, as the months roll by, you might go whole days without thinking about the person. That’s when they come to you in dreams, like a ripple so faint, their image a blur. You reach out to touch them and your hand meets air, and you wake up sad and longing, with a dry face.

I dreamt about Doug the other night. When I woke, I went to listen to one of his songs and hear his voice, and I found this, which I’d not heard before. His voice is so clear and gentle, and the words are so spare and lovely. It was a balm. So I made this video, which is silly, but it allowed me to spend some time with him.

Ponderous from Jennifer Kohnhorst on Vimeo.

Hike of Hate – July 20, 2014

Adam had assumed we weren’t going to go on our Sunday hike, as the kids were at their dad’s house. “You’re going!” I barked on Saturday night, “That’s the whole point! 52 hikes! We have to go!!” Still I was surprised when I asked him what his plans for the day were, and our hike was on the docket. It was sunny and steamy out, and we both had long to-do lists in the wings. In deference to these factors I chose a “hike” close by, a five-minute drive to a trail in Dale Villa Park that begins behind a supper club and winds its way towards Lake McCarrons, a little known urban lake in Saint Paul.

The beauty of this topographic map conceals the baseness of the trail within.
The beauty of this topographic map conceals the baseness of the trail within.

The trailhead behind the supper club, with its sign for BOOYA leaned up against the back wall, should have been warning enough. And as we descended the paved trail into the woods, the fetid smell of rotting vegetation should also have caused me to turn around. But once we were level with the slew, the scent receded. And we breathed through our mouths. I was optimistic as we walked through the vaulted tunnel of tall oaks.

And then, it was over. The trail dumped us into a residential cul-de-sac, with an overlook which looked over the algae covered source of stink. It seemed to me we had only walked about 10 minutes. And though you might think that reaching the end of this not-so-great trail might have been a relief, I was disappointed. Because whatever it was I needed from a hike that day, I had not gotten it. Meanwhile Adam was enjoying the scenery and talking to me about the difficulty of reconciling the passionate spiritual engagement of theism with the detachment of non-theistic religions or atheism.

We decided to follow an asphalt path that circles Lake McCarrons, and allows you to look at the driveways and garages of large houses. The path leads you up a large hill. While trudging up the hill you might become crabby. Because the hippie insect spray and your sweat might be forming an amphibious film on your face and arms. Also, you might grow weary of existential conversation at this time. Next you might start walking about 5 steps ahead of your boyfriend, in classic pissed-off-bitch style. At least that’s what I did.

We walked past the Roseville Armory and many varieties of backyard fences to a major intersection which turned out to be Rice Street, which I found extremely depressing, as it epitomizes vulgar urban claptrap, especially at it’s north end. I turned walked quickly back towards the trail, Adam following, both of us knowing that silence was our friend. The only good thing that happened was meeting a very beautiful white Pyrenees Mountain Dog named Titan, who looked hotter than me.

I don’t even have a photo, so filled with ire I was. Adam said he found the trail “delightful” and that he loved knowing about little urban “secret gardens”, which made me hate the trail more. It almost prompted me to say something like Sorry Adam. Next Sunday will be better.