Mary Beth Writes

William Kent Krueger wrote (and is still writing) mystery novels about a guy who was once a cop, then a northern Minnesota county sheriff, and is now a private investigator.  There are (so far) 17 Cork O’Connor books. I first heard about them in January and right now I am reading the 17th.  I’ve spent a lot of time this winter canoeing the Boundary Waters looking for bad guys.

Every book is populated by the regular panoply of white people and as well by folks who are wholly or partly Ojibwe/Anishinaabe. The dynamic of white culture encountering Ojibwe culture is a huge part of why I love these books.

In each novel Cork (or some other character) will come to a point where they can’t figure out what to do next. Cork thinks Henry Meloux might have helpful clues since Henry is a nearly 100-year old Ojibwe ‘mide’ (healer) who knows everyone - and knew their parents - and knew their grandparents.  Cork will drive and hike out to Meloux’ isolated cabin. Cork asks Meloux pertinent questions. Cork needs to understand something right now. Henry inevitably answers deep doodoo answers such as, ‘The answer is already inside you” or “The woods know more than we can ever know” or “We will prepare a sweat for you.”  And then Cork or whomever has to spend hours in a sweat lodge with Henry singing Anishinaabe prayers and songs.

Like Cork, I want to get past this mystical obfuscation and hear (because generally we will hear towards the end of the novel) the actual story of what’s going on and why those people acted that way.

Just last night, reading yet again about a sweat that didn’t go well (the drunk guy threw up), suddenly I got it. Western culture says, “There’s this huge problem so lets’ put on our thinking caps and THINK! Let’s share information, work together, give it our all, figure this out. Let’s risk ourselves to save others. Let’s not hold back, let’s move ahead in this crisis.”

And fictional Henry is replying, “You need to close down your rattletrap mind. You need to put down what you think you know. You need to breathe and let go of your panic and ego. When done that, think again to see what’s what.”

This is, of course, impossible to write about. We are all so damn enculturated that we have categories in our brain for “Oh yeah, breathe deep; turn off our monkey brain; let the spirit move into us.” We know how to SAY this. We know people who DO this.  We are all about being Open to the Mystery and Spiritual Healing.

But few of us can pull off an empty mind for three minutes in a row before we are off and running with our solutions, anger, grief, cool ideas, and the latest idea we read or heard. (Raising my hand here.)

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing huge problems at us. Yes, we need N95-masks and ventilators and politicians who think about their constituents instead of their stock portfolios.

All of us are already living with dread, worry, and isolation. Some of us are living with symptoms or people we love are having symptoms. Some of us have lost people or we will. This is all true.

I am going to keep thinking about Henry Meloux, a fictional character who says what I might need to know and the strength I might need to have are already somewhere in the woods, the sky, the desert, the river, the lake, in me.

My niece Susan works as a speech therapist in the Los Angeles public school.  She is also a person who sometimes pushes things apart or, other times, pulls them back together. Hmmm, I’ve never described her this way before, but I know I am right.

In the past week she’s been making beautiful circles of flowers and petals. She posts them on Instagram; you are welcome to follow her at: Susanlawrence954

The violet-edged hankie on which Susan made one of the arrangements was “tatted” by my grandma who was Susan’s great-grandmother. (I never heard the word crochet until after Grandma passed away.)  

Esther Anderson would have laughed and shook her head to see her hankie honored this way. “I’ve heard you are running out of bathroom tissue.” (She would NEVER have said toilet paper aloud.) “Why aren’t you using all those hankies I made for your noses?”

(I just realized if one says, “the Los Angeles area” one has said “the The Angels’ area.”  Cute.)

We did our census today. What a pile of hooey.

It asks if we are male or female - with no other options. It asks what our ethnic background is. Our people arrived BEFORE 1900, what on earth can possibly be relevant about asking that now?

You know what it doesn’t ask? Our income or what government services we utilize. 


How are you doing?



Hi MB—I wonder what Paulie would have thought about all of this...It is times like these that I really miss our conversations. Two things come to mind, the first is how excited he was to see how Y2K was going to go; and the second is something he would always say when there was no other answer but “what can they do to me now?” I know he wouldn’t have cared about hoarding toilet paper but I’m sure he would have stocked up on beer, hot dogs, Ruffles potato chips with the ridges, and Gatorade. There have been a few books that I have skipped to the back because I couldn’t read fast enough to get to the ending. I don’t know that this is one of those times. I’m enjoying life’s slower pace. What can they do to us now :)
Mary Beth's picture

Len and I have both passed the incubation period. Last time he and I were with other people was more than a week ago. So we are safe from getting it as long as we stay in our house, or we do things outside alone or with each other. This is not hard for us, we can miss this pandemic. Except - we love people. So even though many of us as individuals will be fine, the dread for what might happen to loved ones is a read dread. Hey, I didn't know my brother loved Ruffles! So do I!

MB—They had to have the ridges and he ate them everyday for lunch with his two hotdogs and Gatorade. He was such a creature of habit!

If they don't know those things they can keep their heads in the sand because those things don't exist... And if they don't exist they don't have or won't do anything they don't want to do...
Mary Beth's picture

Exactly. To not see the people in front and next to us - is evil.

Thank you for your posts especially during these hard times!!!!
Mary Beth's picture

I appreciate your words. I really do. Thanks.

Love Susan’s flower arrangements AND you just reminded me - I need to download the second Cork O’Connor book!
Mary Beth's picture

I plan on including Susan's flowers for a while. Aren't they calming? Like remembering to take a deep breath, And yeah - download Krueger! All the libraries have him - he's a staple!

I'm reading your quarantine posts out of order, I guess, but did notice and really like the flower arrangements and I did wonder about them. When I was about 5 years old, in the early 1960s, I remember doing something like this with other girls this on the ground in our yard or neighborhood. We were creating beauty and order with what we had. I feel the need to create beauty and order right now, but I do not like doing "real" arts and crafts of any kind. Now, THIS I can do!
Mary Beth's picture

There are quite a few more on Susan's IG. I think she is doing about one per day while she is not at work with the kids. Although she was saying she begins doing speech therapy - this with grammar school aged kids - this week via their iPads. She was as curious as they rest of us about how this is going to go...

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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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