Friday, July 1, 2011

Notes from up Nort'

One of the cannot miss places on Minnesota's north shore of Lake Superior is the Split Rock Light House.  I knew I was going there when I last posted.  I haven't seen it in many years and much has changed.  On the plus side, the site has undergone significant restoration efforts so things work, the buildings look set to withstand at least another 50 winters, and earnest young people in period costumes stand ready to explain the site and its historical importance.  The down side is that the Minnesota Historical Society now gets $8 a head for admission and the fun of climbing around unsupervised in ratty old buildings is gone.

the fresnel lens
It was sunny and warm.  After a long miserable winter followed by cold and rainy spring, the local young tour guides were actually blinking at the sun in disbelief.  These are quiet people who spend much of their lives indoors so smiling at all these strangers is what makes this gig a JOB.  But they seemed determined to do it well.  In the restored lighthouse keeper's quarters a young woman in a long dress was making corn bread using the 1910s technology.  She cheerfully explained the problems of baking in an oven with no temperature regulation.  My old aunt Minnie was legendary in her neighborhood because she could bake an angel-food cake in a stove fired by corn cobs--my mother would describe this accomplishment in hushed tones.  So I have powerful memories of the problems our make-believe lighthouse-keeper's wife was solving.

It was a reminder of the incredible amounts talent and energy the younger generation has.  The corn-bread maker had organized and spoke about her problems like someone who had actually gotten good grades in chemistry.  In another life, she would be probably be getting a degree in chemical engineering.  But here she was, making the best of a ridiculous summer job and probably feeling damn lucky to have it.  Around the world, young people are on the verge of major riots over lack of jobs.  The economics that produce such outcomes are utterly crazy.  Any society that cannot harness the energy of its young is truly a failure in every meaningful sense.

I huffed and puffed my way down to the landing where the supplies for the lighthouse and keeper were unloaded during the first couple of decades of operation.  It was probably a crazy thing to do at my age and heart condition--171 steps is quite a flight of stairs.  But I simply HAD to get my own shot of Split Rock.  Buying a picture in the museum shop was unacceptable with a new little Canon Powershot to play with.

I must have a sign hanging over me because when I finally made it back to the car, a young man just came up and asked if I was driving back towards Gooseberry Falls--and could he and a friend get a ride.  I checked it out with the boss and we loaded them up.  Turns out the tired hiker was the youth pastor in the church where my brother was married.  His boss was the sister to a guy I sat next to in high school English class.  Found out that Lutheran youth pastors don't require that kids memorize the Small Catechism any more.  Catechism instruction is supposed to be "fun" these days, you know.  I know that they have been dumbing down the hymnals since I stopped attending devout observances in the 1960s, but this latest news is equally depressing.

The WHOLE POINT of getting folks to sing Bach in parts and memorize the Catechism is that these things are difficult.  Getting children to do difficult things is how their minds grow.  The idea of memorizing the teachings of a culture isn't so much that kids will actually understand these ideals when they learn them, it is the process of jumping an intellectual hurdle.  Besides, it hardly harms folks to learn some principles of virtue.  In my favorite example of the Luther I learned, we were not only not to bear false witness against our neighbors, "but apologize for him, speak well of him, and put the most charitable construction on all that he says and does."  It is truly amazing how well a civilization works when folks actually act on this idea.

Oh well, I suppose it's OK to dumb down our kids--we don't have meaningful work for them anyway. (sigh)

Gooseberry Falls

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