Summer ends with turtle-racing flourish

Aaron J. BrownSummer lives, of course. It’s still kind of nice outside. The leaves are still kind of green. The calendar places the start of fall in September, but we all know that’s junk. Tomorrow I’ll pilot the car early in the morning to teach a college class for something called “Fall Semester” and how can you argue with that? Next week the boys will get onto a big yellow bus headed to their elementary school, and this will mean the end of “summer vacation.” It’s all right there in black and white.

Life in northern Minnesota is the experience of opening a mystery door every day: obviously to different weather, but practically speaking to a different lifestyle, one chosen for you. Spades and snow plows. Boats and snow machines. Long sleeves and shorts. Mow the lawn. Rake the lawn. Shovel the walk. Pour more gravel on the driveway to begin anew.

Teaching in northern Minnesota only amplifies this effect. I imagine the same is true of those in hospitality and the building trades. Seasons bring new people and added responsibilities, only to set you free (often in a heap) and do it again. The years don’t evaporate, they tick by like mile markers and metronomes.

The fall semester is deceptively named. Sure, it covers fall. But when it starts the students are still wearing shorts and t-shirts, car windows open to vent out the heat and stereo. It will end in December with all of us in parkas, humming Christmas songs. The only constant on the landscape is the syllabus for my communication course, which — if I’m being honest — navigates more on intuition than the hard light of the North Star. The ship will eventually arrive in port, though; I assure you.

Last week the college held workshops. I saw my colleagues again after months of working solo on a computer. The stories filled the rafters, like council fires and war dispatches. Longing for more summer will not stop Monday from happening, and truthfully everyone wants Monday to come. What if it didn’t?

Like many, my family and I took a quick vacation in August. We saw a round of turtle races in Nisswa, Minnesota. If you’re not familiar with them, the turtle races are held there (and also in Longville) every Wednesday in the summer. This happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Nisswa turtle races, hearkening back to sepia-toned 1960’s terrapins now long dead. The ones we saw this month were quite lively, however, even if our boys selected introspective Testudinidae, ill-suited for a life of racing.

Scads of people gather for the turtle races. That day about 500 kids registered to race turtles out in concentric circles from the center of this tourist town. Officials said almost 1,000 kids participated during the July 4 holiday week. During the long build-up to the races, the announcer thanked the volunteers, the visitors and touted the virtues of this quaint, busy little town. Kids got ribbons and no one did much to thank the turtles who won them. But hundreds of people’s lives laid suspended until at least one turtle crawled from the inside circle to the outside circle — 10, 20, 30 times or more.

A Minnesota summer is not unlike a turtle race. Some of those turtles go a lot faster than you’d expect, and anyway, what were you expecting? You just hope you stuck your head out your shell long enough to get a sun tan and some memories. Water the pavement, because it gets pretty hot. If you’re lucky you’ll get to do it again next year.

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range author and instructor of communication at Hibbing Community College. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This column first appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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