Mary True Bell
the former Rochester Post Bulletin columnist’s best ever
John Weiss was the best-known name and face of the Post Bulletin outside the city limits of Rochester. Need to know someone in Plainview? If John didn’t know the person, he’d know the person who’d know the person you needed. Need to know which roads were in danger of flooding that spring? John knew—and could tell you which roads had flooded last and who lived on them.
John was also a one-man band: he could report a hard news story, do a feature, file away a possible story angle for weeks or months later, AND take pictures to go with all of it. And you’d get all of this with his statement “I’m heading to the river” as he walked to the exit. Whenever John left the building, it was always “to the river.” Which river, you could never be sure. And how close to a river he actually got was up for debate.
I was reluctant to assign John to Back Roads at first. Who in the world is interested in the run-of-the-mill junked-up shop? What makes that woman so special? Finally, I started to see things John’s way. That junked-up shop is a treasure trove of stories. That woman’s story is unique, all the while being so typical.
All right, I finally said. Let’s give it a try. BUT, no going out of the way. It has to be something you find on your way to a legit story assignment.
Soon enough, Back Roads columns and pictures started to fill our files. Stories with hopes and dreams, and joys and sorrows. John put the folks and places that we see every day but somehow overlook into focus. John broadened our definition of neighbor and friend. —Randi Kallas, former City Editor and Newspaper in Education Coordinator, Rochester Post-Bulletin.
“Perhaps I have a need for much rougher prose or poetry than I had been anticipating. I’ve been wanting to write something jewel-like, but maybe what I want isn’t exactly the point.” Carole Stoa Senn
“Carole’s story,” says Emilio DeGrazia in his introduction to this fascinating story, “is a necessarily fragmented account of how a talented and lovely young life was ravaged twice by violent attacks against which she had no way to defend herself.”
“I love to ride into Whitewater Park from Olmsted County Road 9. I love to feel the rush of oxygen into my lungs, and I love to sing a song like You are My Sunshine. In spring and summer, the green trees and brush climb up both sides of State Highway 74 to make canyon walls. As you descend the bluff, you catch glimpses of the bedrock, millions of years old. In the fall and winter, after the leaves disappear, the color changes to black. Only the bedrock is yellow.
“No matter the weather, I roll the car windows down and breathe deep before taking off. I give myself permission to speed a little. Fifty years ago I did it. Twenty years ago I did it. And I still do it. I hurry to return to Whitewater year after year because it’s my Backyard Canyon.
“As you level out on Route 74 into the Whitewater State Park, there’s a mile marker and an open field. Once this field was a golf course. Long ago it was a powwow site.
“Don, my ninety-five-year-old friend, recalled an Indian powwow.
“‘The Indians came dressed in war paint and feathers. Scared the hell out of me,’ he’d chuckled. ‘They came for days and danced, sang what I heard as war hoops, and howled while they pounded their drums. They were probably Sioux, Sioux the Snakes the French called them. There were plenty of snakes in Whitewater.’
“Today the Timber Snakes in the Whitewater Park are in trouble. Endangered.” —Peg Bauernfeind 2017
Publication of Return to Backyard Canyon was made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.