R is for raw sewage, riverine wetland, rubbish, rookery of herons and egrets, rusting barrels of toxic waste. I try to imagine all of this at Pig’s Eye Lake. Surrounding it, marsh, cottonwoods, floodplain, bluffs above the great river. It’s a place the Dakota consider sacred, James Rock says. Čhokáŋ Taŋka, the Dakota call it: the big middle. I try to imagine the burial mounds that were blown up with dynamite, and railyards, locks and dams, dredging, and all the household trash that was dumped in the marsh, the industrial debris: lead-acid batteries, solvents, electrical transformers, burnt sludge. Eight million cubic yards, some of it fluorosurfectants—the so-called forever chemicals needed to make non-stick frying pans, stain-repellent for couches and rugs—the PFOS that have spread everywhere, now taint my blood, and yours, and every creature’s.
The most striking physical features of this city/town are . . .
Minneapolis is known as the “city of lakes” because of the five large bodies of water nestled in among the city blocks of houses and small businesses. The lakes give the city a vacation feel during the summer. You can go to the beach, bike and walk, and eat ice cream.
Ask a Local with Anika Fajardo: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I found myself holding the rear hooves of an upside-down, dead deer while a large, gray wolf paced a few feet away. It was a clear and cold afternoon, ten degrees above zero under a bright Minnesotan sun. We watched the wolf and the wolf watched us. Peggy turned and walked back to a truck piled high with roadkill. A dead calf, donated by a local farmer, peered out from among the tangle of wild limbs. A live rat terrier perched on top of the pile like a conquering queen. She licked at frozen blood.
I was with this wolf, and this woman, and this dog, because I was fixated on the wolf as a cultural symbol of villainy, of evil. I was writing a paper for an academic conference. Peggy reached her arm in among the bodies. “You know,” she called over her shoulder, “after all these years, we still prefer Chicago Cutlery®.” Her arm reappeared with a green-handled chef’s knife.
We booked three nights but stayed four. We traveled in-state to save money but spent just as much as we might have on flights to the West Coast. It was November. Going against all reason at our latitude, we headed north.
We decided we’d stop for the night in Denver while eating at a Taco Johns in North Platte, Nebraska, and scanned the Expedia app on my phone. There was a 4-star hotel in the suburbs northwest of the city on sale for 86 bucks, so I reserved a room because it was the same price as the Best Western.
“Tell me what you want, Aaron,” Walter had periodically insisted, the words no longer an invitation but a way of chiding Aaron, suggesting that he wanted too much—or worse, that he had no idea what he wanted. In the beginning of their lives together, when they were two discrete people, Walter’s motives felt easy to read.
: Tell me who you are, he seemed to be saying. Tell me what you want from this life. Only later had Aaron understood that his real motive in asking was to discover how he might serve as benefactor to Aaron’s wishes and ambitions and, in doing so, bind Aaron to him.
Nothing could be done about the cancer in him, so we did not bring him bread. He was dying, and doing so more actively now, though still at a pace he commanded. Even Death let him call most of the shots. We brought Sol what he wanted: vodka and cigarettes.
This is the first part of a two-part Dispatch. Pt. 2 will be published online in November.
She slept for the first two hours of the trip, and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, “When we get back I want a divorce.” We were headed north with the hopes of going to Canada for no other reason than to say that we’d left the country. We’d decided on Thunder Bay, Ontario, because it was the closest destination across the border from our home in southern Illinois. And now, it seemed, the trip was doomed before we’d covered half the length of our own state.