Pine Nuts: Dateline Red Wing, Minnesota

McAvoy Layne
Pine Nuts

Red Wing, Minnesota is the cutest town I ever saw. You can’t see it without falling in love with it. I wanted to fold it up and take it home with me.

They make shoes there, comfortable, sensible shoes. I was reminded of what my mother told me, “Honey, always have a good pair of shoes and a good bed, ‘cuz you’re either in one or the other.” And what is their favorite pastime in the cute little town Red Wing? Watching birds, and there’s no shortage of them.

Red Wing is home of the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame, a sport I experienced only once by accident. And they have no coroner in that cute little town. I heard a coroner opened an office there years ago, went broke, and moved away. I saw a man on the street there who looked to be 183. The only thing missing in this little river town is good music, though there is plenty of the other kind. One song I heard in Red Wing was, “What if the Hokey Pokey is really what it’s all about?”

We visited the National Eagle Center and saw some impressive live eagles that are enrolled in AA or otherwise grounded and kept in comfortable confines until they are ready once again for the wild. We were told by an expert in the matter that an eagle’s stomach can digest anything except fur and feathers. And the good news is, Mother Nature has provided this bird with a gizzard, so this noble bird can make hairballs like a cat and cough them up.

The expert then passed around a plate with an eagle hairball in the middle of it that I only saw out of the corner of my eye. Not having a gizzard myself, I have little interest in hairballs.

Back on the boat, as we are preparing to paddle back down the Mississippi to St. Louis. One passenger observed, “We come aboard as passengers, then they feed us so many calories we are off-loaded as cargo.”

As it happened, the boat was sold out on the return to St. Louis, so Mark Twain (me) was assigned to an upper bunk in the bilges. Now you have to imagine a man in his mid-seventies trying to slide down off an upper bunk in the middle of the night, landing one foot on the deck while the other is still up on the bunk. I’ve been walking a little bowlegged since.

Getting back up onto the bunk was an even greater challenge. I’m no longer any good at jumping. I could not jump over an Incline Village phone book. Yet I managed to climb up there like a spider monkey, but was so exhausted I could no longer sleep. So I stared into the night until the sun mercifully rose and shined down upon the river.

Riding the Mississippi has a charming calming effect on one’s soul. It invigorates charitable instincts, and revitalizes dormant optimism. If a week on this river does not cure whatever ails you, as Mark Twain might say, “I’ll bury you at my own expense.”

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