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A Large Delicate Question

January 11, 2010 | 7 Comments

To the Host:
Making the drive from MI to MN for a couple years at the language immersion camps of Concordia near Bemidji, I was glad to see the many Indian communities in the area. Since my impression is that Lake Wobegon is Up North, possibly in the Paul Bunyan area, I reflected that few if any Indian relationships or experiences or stories appear in your monologues. I have no idea if that is by mutual agreement or simply thematically difficult. But I would be curious to know if there is creative room for Native Americans among the characters of Lake Wobegon.

G.P. Witteveen
St. Johns, MI


This is what we call a Large Delicate Question, sir. Lake Wobegon is not close to any Indian reservation, and so the appearance of Native Americans in the stories has been infrequent — a stranger appearing in town, distant rumors of a romantic liaison, a story of a heroic rescue long ago. I suppose this is due to cowardice on my part: anything I might say about Indians that is less than adulatory would horrify a lot of listeners who would write me long single-spaced letters calling me to account and I hate to put people to the trouble of writing long letters. I've met Native Americans who enjoy the stories, however, and none of them has suggested I should insert an Ojibwe or Dakota into the mix. If I were to do that, I guess I'd want to put my friend Jerry into a story. He lives on a reservation in northern Wisconsin and every time I see him he brings me a bag of wild rice. He has a spiritual gift of friendship that's mysterious to me, but the moment he walks into the room, though I haven't seen him for a long time, I feel bound to him, feel understood by him. He's a man acquainted with grief, having lost his son, and he is full of love that comes out in everything he says. We became friends about ten years ago and it happened within minutes after we met and I can't explain that. And if I can't, then how can I tell a story about it?


By what you have said "I feel bound to him, feel understood by him. He's a man acquainted with grief, having lost his son, and he is full of love that comes out in everything he says." you have told a story that befits the aboriginal aura. Be well, do good work and keep in touch.

What a beautiful, sensitive reply...
It reminds me of the one you wrote to my post after Halloween 2006 - its poignancy brought me to tears. I hope I'm a fraction of the friend you are, to my friends.

Having never known a soul like Jerry, whose mere presence can fill a room, and with whom you feel instantly at ease, I think the world would be a better place if we heard more about him. Especially the world of Lake Wobegon. We all could use a quiet, accepting presence in our lives, even if it's just a character of your imagination.

Your stories are about people, which is what being Native is all about. My grandpa (born in a log cabin in 1877 in Indian Territory) would say, "I met a man today..." Wouldn't matter who the man was, what he represented, where he was from -- he had met a man, a unique individual, a person. Everyone you've told us about is a person in that same way. Like my grandpa, you don't judge them, you just tell about them.

My people are storytellers. I have my grandpa's journal from 1901 and it's full of stories of men and women. He told me stories all his life. We learn from our stories and they pass on the wisdom of our elders and our ancestors.

That's what you do, Garrison. If you have been befriended by a native person, that's because he recognized your spirit. Your spirit is in your stories, as is some unintended wisdom, some words you didn't know you thought until they came out of your mouth like when we Quakers stand up and speak in Meeting.

You have the spirit and that's what being native is all about. We feel ourselves in your stories. Those who haven't felt that yet need to just keep listening. You just keep talking.

Your reply is a great tribute in itself. One thing that has struck me for years about your writing is its genuine quality, you write from what you've lived, from your history, from what you know, anything more and you'd be untrue to yourself. Your response proves this because it's a true to life expereince that you draw from. It's a great and rare achievement today to be unoffensive in entertainment, add the genuine touch and you've got the whole package.

As far as the bond which you don't fully understand, you have to remember - in mechanics or science just as in nature, not everything can bond together and some things bond better then others. His ability to bond is only part of the equation. When friends have an instant bond as strong as yours, it's not just because of him, you are an equal part of that equation, and for the friendship to be that strong, his ability to bond can only be as strong as yours.

I think you're answer is a croc. Every writer I know writes to discover something, not repeat what he already knows. I believe I've heard you say that yourself.

In response to Michael.....
Hmmmmmm The host tells stories, stories of his past, stories that ring true of the human experience, stories that have power, stories well written and crafted, story which have has the power to change and transform lives....

I am reminded of the compost pile in my yard, into which I dump all manner of biodegradable cast offs, my daily sacred "Grounds", eggs shells and rotting vegetable parts (Repeating what he already knows.) by throwing them into one place, and allowing the worms and microbes to do their thing, regurgitating things I already know, facilitate the fertile soil from which my tomato plants, basil, and zucchini's grow. I hear Guy Clark's song about Homegrown Tomatoes playing in the back of my brain right now.

Perhaps it is the Host/Gardeners ability to tend and till the compost pile of our collective unconscious, which, in this story was recognized by the Native American gentleman. Whether he exists or not, (if only In the mind of The Host) it rings true and resonates in the minds hearts and collective unconscious of many listeners and readers....

As I reflect on the original question and the Host's response, I find myself contemplating two mysteries. Firstly, whether factual accuracy is requisite to "Truth". and whether (or not)such contemplation is meaningless in the big picture. And secondly what "you're answer" means in the context of this discussion...

Oh well, back to my garden now...

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