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Back Roads: Detour takes me back in time

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Jim Anderson of Rochester sits on the porch of a former store in Newburg while waiting to show the renovated building to a prospective buyer.

MABEL — It was just another highway detour that forced me onto smaller roads. I slowed down after being besotted by the evening's mellow light and bright warmth.

That intoxication spun loose long-dormant memories of such evenings when I was teen; I was jolted back to those times of euphoria and tempest.

I was driving west from Spring Grove a few weeks ago. I had the evening perfectly planned — hurry home on Minn. Highway 44 and U.S. 52, take a brisk walk, do shoulder therapy, then water my wife's flowers, one of my most hallowed duties when she's gone.

But at Mabel, the sign ordered me to detour north toward Rushford. On Minnesota Highway 43, the evening seized me, demanding I forsake my plans and pay attention to it only.

I obeyed, slowing down and lowering my windows like I did when I was a teenager driving home from Dick Turcotte's summer cabin north of Brainerd.


Mellow rolled in with the breeze. I saw a mare and foal feeding and was reminded of "A Blessing," a favorite poem by James Wright. He speaks of stopping off a highway near Rochester to pet two Indian ponies. He ends with, "Suddenly I realize; That if I stepped out of my body I would break; Into blossom."

At Newburg, on Fillmore County Road 24, Jim Anderson waved to me. The Rochester real estate agent was sitting on an old wood Coca-Cola bench in front of a former store that he was going to show to a prospective buyer. He looked so relaxed. I stopped to chat with a fellow lover of cool summer evenings.

"I prefer the rural listings," he said. He has to work in Rochester, it's where the most listings are. But he grew up on a northern Minnesota farm and remembers such evenings up there.

Farther down Fillmore County Road 24, memories of driving around Brainerd barged through the window.

As a teen, I would want to tear up the road, rip up the world. My energy had no bounds but my energy also had no purpose.

My emotions were often like a firefly, flashing warm and lush then crashing into hollow darkness. I would breathe in the exaltation of knowing my life was a wonderment before me, but exhale the fear that I had no idea where I was going.

Why those long-dormant memories haunted me on a perfect evening a few weeks ago, I'm not sure. Maybe it was the soft glow of evening or the sweet breeze. Maybe I still haven't figured out my youth, and that euphoria/tempest will always be part of me.

I just kept driving east, besotted and bewildered, enjoying the puzzling evening.


Finally, I reached U.S. 52, rolled up the windows and kicked my car up to the speed limit.

At home, I watered the flowers.

Back Roads is a weekly column on people and places in Southeast Minnesota. If you have a tip, call John Weiss at 285-7749.

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Fillmore County Road 12 winds toward the sunset on a summer's evening.

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