Bay or Gulf?

In the last several years there’s been a lot of conversation about having a both/and orientation. It’s wonderful to be inclusive, isn’t it? And…unless having a both/and orientation includes the option of either/or, it, in and of itself, becomes an either/or. The story that follows is an example of where an outcome, by definition, falls into the either/or territory. Bay or Gulf?

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From the time I was born until I was four my father left home at about 2:00 am each morning. He drove a bread truck route, delivering bread through a sparsely populated area of northern Minnesota before the stores opened.

His route was, more or less, the length of Highway 38 from Grand Rapids to Effie, MN. It’s about 45 miles. It is one of the most beautiful drives in Minnesota. The road passes through a very hilly birch and pine forest with hundreds of small lakes carved by the glaciers about 16,000 years ago. At one point, it follows the Continental Divide. There’s hardly a moment when there isn’t a lake on one side or the other…or both.

I learned a lot from my dad about nature and the earth. Some of it was even true. Some of it, I later came to see, was how he amused himself with my endless questions. Just like Calvin’s dad in Calvin and Hobbes.

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dad bread truck hdOne of my very first memories is of driving up Highway 38. No car seats or seat belts in those days. When we were in the bread truck, I stood in the middle kind of behind my dad’s right shoulder. When we were in our first car, a ’49 Chev, I stood on the bump in the middle of the floor in the back seat and leaned my arms on the front seat. That way I could see everything.

I asked Dad why the road was so hilly and curvy. He said that when they built it they had too much road and they had to use it up. So they used the extra by adding lots of hills and curves. I imagined it was like the ribbon in my hair. I wondered: If it was too long, how would we bend and fold it like this road? It was a puzzle for my 3 year-old brain.

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Years later, as an adolescent, I remember another trip along Highway 38. I reminded Dad of the too-much-road story. We chuckled together and then this time, I got a different story about how glaciers carved the area and left water in the holes (lakes) when it receded.

For some distance, perhaps 0.5 mile, the road follows the North-South Continental Divide on a subtle, very slight crest. Dad told me that when it rains, the drops on one side of the divide go to Hudson Bay and the drops on the other side go to the Gulf of Mexico. And, if there’s a wind, depending on the direction, he went on, the drops that would have gone to Hudson Bay would end up in the Gulf of Mexico instead. Or vice versa.

It was a rather breathless moment for me. I was already wondering about fate and destiny in those days. Now I imagined the whimsy and chance of this scenario and wondered how it fit in. How I fit in. All because of the wind.