Happy Birthday from Lake Wobegon

It’s been a quiet week in my home,

even though both my wife and I had our birthdays a few days apart. Mundane. Rhythmic. Coffee and writing at 5:15 a.m., breakfast for Novi at 8, a ski with Ajee after. More work, more food, more training, more diapers in the afternoon and evening. It’s far from the “magic” spontaneity portrayed in Hollywood romances. Far better, too. 

Christie and I haven’t bought something on Amazon in months and if we go out to eat, it’s because our parents are treating us. Our house is kind of a mess, and sometimes it gets cleaned up. Our cars sometimes get cleaned up and are kind of junky. Even the bases of my precious skis and the chainrings on my worn-out bikes are in need of some TLC.

As a boy, I was treated to Praire Home Companion about as often as Dairy Queen, which is to say, I experienced both gifts of midwestern Americana just enough to be thrilled at the prospect of them. Thus, I was grateful to receive complimentary tickets for Garrison Keillor’s show at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on March 30. I told Christie a couple months before. It was a date.

Twelve years ago I wandered into the back of an ice hockey arena as Keillor and his partners rehearsed before a live show in Bemidji, Minnesota. Seeing a sort of famous guy practice the shtick I’d heard on summer nights driving home from the cabin was pretty cool, even though I was never a Norwegian bachelor farmer, nor did I descend from German Lutherans or even grow up in a small town. 

Regular trips to podunk Bagley, Minnesota plus the annual July 4th playing of Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon, however, enabled me to understand the subtle humor behind small-town parades, church potlucks and a quiet “good-Christian” boy who longed to reject his Lutheran upbringing. 

Who pined, not for pine trees, but for a Rachmaninov-filled fifth-story flat in Manhatten, where he could engage in cultured conversation about the news on public radio, express his fidelity with the New York Times editorial staff and of course — become a writer.

Even though I never went that route entirely, I did leave the comfortable confines of my Moorhead home, the site of Praire Home cemetery — supposedly the namesake for Keillor’s show in some fashion, or so I’m told. 

And, I am technically a writer (chuckles echo from the peanut gallery). My alter ego resonates with many of Keillor’s seminal Lake Wobegon characters — particularly that archetypal young adult who finally leaves the fields of central Minnesota to become “enlightened” at some Ivy League school, finds happiness being an anonymous goldfish in the ocean of a big east-coast city …and then wonders … discovers…what it is he left behind. 

That’s probably why I started my own podcast and radio show as soon as I discovered a USB microphone at the age of 16. Like Keillor, “I went into radio for love,” he sings in an in-tune but less-then Pavarotti-esque tone. That particular narrative cadenza is vintage Keillor: he so seamlessly weaves bits and pieces of his own University of Minnesota days with fictional tales that it’s hard to separate reality from fiction.

Listening to that and talk radio still gives me some unexplained warm fuzzies. Maybe it hearkens back to the sugary smooth voice of Herb Karneal calling Minnesota Twins games as I fell asleep — and I’m not making this up — in a treehouse with my puppy in my sleeping bag.

As a freshman at Bemidji State University, I remember being delighted as I sat in the big chair and hosted my own  “Evening Podcast” over real-live airwaves. I read a few dry news stories in a BBC voice, interviewed a guest musician who doubled as the local triple jump star — and my brother’s girlfriend (my Rolodex was limited at the time), read a poem — because Keillor would have — and played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. At the end, I read a 16-minute “News from Shovel Lake” story as I imagined millions of children curled up in bed listening to my voice.

The next day, I asked a professor what he thought and he said he turned it off after five minutes because he said it was boring. I belly-laughed because that’s exactly what I was going for. 

Then I left Minnesota and started a grand adventure in Colorado. 

The dry weather, the mountains, the skiing — they’ve all sufficiently enraptured my senses.  

The people are clearly my kind in many ways, but not all. 

The contrast with Minnesota Nice is stark. Colorado is wild and individualistic. The same rocks and inclines that daily challenge my legs can take a life in an instant. It’s a far cry from the comforts of a quiet solitary fishing boat in a familiar lake. I’ve always realized that what keeps people in Minnesota is just that: the comfort of what they know. If you don’t leave right away, it gets harder and harder to do it later.

Watching Keillor the other night reminded me of all of this. 

My brain’s images filled with my grandparent’s Northern Minnesota plot, with its deer stands, fields and farm implements rotting in the woods; the confined dinner table and cramped kitchen, where aunts and mothers and grandmothers bulge over the counters and simultaneously and delicately dance around one another — whipping hot dishes of creamed casseroles out of a tiny oven, stirring sauces and cutting roasts — and avoid bearded men wearing Holden Caulfied hats and carrying hunting rifles as they trudge down the carpeted hallways; kids, being loud and argumentative or quiet and reserved depending on the moment; it’s quintessential, real-life Lake Wobegon if there ever was one.

Perhaps I feel connected to Keillor’s weekly monologues because I felt like I lived them.

— fishing with Grandpa, sledding until frozen, playing Thanksgiving backyard football games, watching July Fourth parades and eating huge holiday meals. 

As an 18-year-old surrounded by my parents and brothers in a living room, listening to gaffes of the small town trying to celebrate the nation’s birthday with its annual living flag, those childhood memories flooded my memory bank. Sometimes, I’d quietly wonder if I’d ever pull a Keillor someday. 

Would I leave for a wild frontier only to one day regret abandoning my sensible Midwest upbringing?

Colorado is where I got my first paycheck, bought my first home and had my first — and second — daughters. Most importantly, it’s where Christie and I went from being two kids who dated, fell in love, and married to two adults carving out their own path. It seems wherever you spread your wings becomes your new world, but it still never replaces the nest you left. 

Colorado is where my life is, but Minnesota will always be home.

There have been rough patches juxtaposed with hidden, great blessings. Struggle and strife, some good luck and bad, and all along, I’ve generally stayed pretty even keel with my habits in starting and ending each day. With a prayer and a kiss.

You see, one thing I didn’t copy of Keillor was his ideas on romance. I didn’t fall in love with a high school sweetheart, only to search out a “sophisticated” woman so independent it’s a mystery as to why she’d ever entertain the idea of marriage in the first place. I saved my first kiss, and the words, “I love you,” until I met Christie. And while there are many roads to Rome, that route was the right one for me. 

Compared to most, I’d consider myself poor, at least by what I’ll assume to be their standard definition. I’ve accepted the fact that any future show I attend at the Vilar will come courtesy of courtesy tickets from the advertising department. When it comes to true wealth, however, I don’t know many who are as blessed, endowed, and rich as myself. My opening paragraph wasn’t intended to come across as a pity plea. It’s just our life. And I’d never want to live it with anyone else. 

Happy birthday, Christie. I know you would have preferred flowers. But, I’m a writer…or at least I’m pretending to be.

And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon.

Published by rsederquist

My name is Ryan Sederquist.  I am a man of many passions and dreams, and this website is the outlet for many of them. I am currently teaching 5th grade remotely in the Adams12 school district in Colorado. I have been an elementary music teacher in Alamosa, Colorado, as well as a 7-12 band director at Lake County High School in Leadville, Colorado. I am also in the final, final stages of acquiring my M.S. in Exercise Science from Adams State University. In 2018-2019, we spent a year in Presque Isle, Maine as I coached the UMPI Nordic ski team. I currently live in Leadville, Colorado with my wife Christie, a special education teacher, and our border collie-German shepherd mix, Ajee. Even though it is not my full-time job, ever since I was a child, I had the desire to do one of three things professionally - pro sports, writing about pro sports, or being a radio talk show host. This website is where I pretend to do the latter two, and when I'm out pretending to do the former, I listen to podcasts, think about topics, and pursue my wild dream of someday, at some event, in either running, biking, or skiing, wearing a team USA uniform. This website contains articles, podcasts, pictures, and journal entries that have to do with my passion and involvement in endurance sports. Our flagship project is the Seder Skier Podcast, which talks mostly about nordic skiing and attempts to interview influential individuals in the ski world. I also rant about the Big 4 sports, with a lean towards Minnesota teams (Vikings, Twins, Twolves, and MN Distance Running). I sometimes try to write Sports Illustrated like 'feature' articles about athletes as well. In addition to a focus on sports, you will find the occasional article or show that discusses the intersection of theology and society ...which is ...obviously everywhere. We place these in our Skieologians podcast. The heading at the top of my homepage reads, "Search for Truth. Play with purpose. Strive for success." It is the underlying theme for my coaching philosophy, which can be downloaded from this site. Basically, I'm always looking to search for the truth in my pursuit of knowledge, whether that is knowledge regarding the best methods for waxing skis, training a quarter miler, or defending my Christian apologetic. Searching implies a dedicated pursuit for knowledge, and that is what I'm about and what this site is about, even if it is simply for providing viewers with an accurate description of a product. Play with purpose has to do with living out our passions because they are fun. I ski because its fun. I play music and teach young kids because there is joy in it. This blog is about celebrating the joy and fun that inherently exists in the pursuit of excellence and in the activities themselves. Finally, strive for success is built on the principle that true success is the realization that we gave 100% effort to become the best that we could possible be. It requires 100% in preparation, competition, reflection, mental effort, etc. If something is worth doing, I believe it is worth doing with that level of effort. Someday, I hope to race the Visma Classics - the entire season, wear a Team USA singlet, and have a job that involves writing or talking about sports or theology all day. If you know of any body I can reach out to to help me accomplish these goals, please email me at sederquistrd@grizzlies.adams.edu

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