Portobello Road-London


I was cast in a brass foundry in the Georgian Era sometime between 1804 and 1814.

I was sold on Portobello Road in London when a row house was being built , I was a final tribute to some semblance of individuality. The dwelling was set apart from the 1 million other people that called London their home. I was a simply cast door knocker.

For nearly 2 hundred years I enjoyed heralding visitors to this home. I endured numerous wars and a century and a half of coal dust. People knocked when they came to celebrate, people knocked when they came to give their condolences. I was the first contact, I stood vigil.

Fifty years ago a planning commission determined that my home was no longer relevant and that it should be torn down to make way for housing with newer amenities and greater convenience.

I once again found myself cast out on Portobello road, in amongst the two miles of outdoor street vendors selling antique hardware.

A man with a black backpack came wandering down this busy street in amongst 20,000 other Londoners. He is traveling with a person I suspect is his wife. They speak with a new world accent. His backpack has been unzipped at least twice by pick pockets in the heavy crowd. It was of no concern to him because he had nothing of value in the backpack.

My knocker is slightly bent after two centuries. My gaze and my poise have not been effected. I am delighted to be found of interest by this couple. They pay a fair price to the brass monger that holds my claim.
I am once again valued. I am no longer sold by the pound for the market price of brass.

When I was cast, the world was appreciating the age of enlightenment. Knowledge was (at long last) allowed to flourish and it was held in high regard. Intellectual freedom was most everywhere and a man named Darwin was born.

And now the world is most certainly… no longer flat. I have been purchased by a new world couple and they seem to appreciate me. I once again find myself positioned in a place of importance. I have boarded a machine that is lighter than air and have found myself on another continent.

I have endured the industrial age and I have survived world wars. I now have found a new home in a distant land. A home that respects my past and a home that appreciates my sojourns. I look out over a prairie lake and the tall grass prairies of the North American landscape.

My original sculptor spent time and effort creating me. He gave careful consideration to my features. He took his station in life seriously. My features reflect his abilities and his seriousness regarding his profession.

I once again have value, I once again hold promise, once again, I carry on.
billkeitel RoadNotes-UnVarnished Essays



1,000 Days of Festivals

I come from the land of Retail, I come from the land of Promotional Opportunity.

For the past 18 years my wife and I have traveled the countryside like modern day gypsies.   We have attended juried art festivals, horse fairs, National Bison Association Shows, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Exhibitions (referred to as , hook and bullet shows).

Many people go to an art festival once or twice each summer.  We attend these festivals most every weekend all summer and part of the winter months in the SouthWest.   It allows us to meet perhaps five or ten thousand people every weekend.  I admit that it causes us to have a little customer overload after this first few weeks.

As we pause and reflect over these past years we have come to realize that we have attended approximately fifty to sixty days of festivals each year.   When you multiply that by eighteen years,  you come to realize that this summer marks ” ONE THOUSAND  DAYS OF FESTIVALS!”   Is this something to be proud of?  or a sign of being stuck in a very serious rut?  We are humbled to have had the opportunity to exhibit at some of the top ten art festivals in the United States.


I have enjoyed understanding how each and every festival operates and how they produce revenue, advertise and promote their individual events.  I make concerted efforts to get to know most each and every festival organizer.   I have found this to be a curious journey because I have gleaned information from throughout the west, southwest and midwest.   Which festivals fund their events by using a gate fee,  which one has the most profitable beer garden, who has the best corporate sponsors, and which corporate sponsors are apt to been long term contributors and which sponsors to avoid if you are pursuing a long term festival relationship.   All of these questions can be answered by attending and getting to know each festival and their organizers.   Many of the concerns of festival building are similar, many are not.  Each festival is an event unto itself.

This information has been interesting to me.  I have compiled enough information over the years that I have been asked to share this information at various state and national level organizations.  It’s kind of a neat gig and it has allowed me to rub shoulders with some curious folks of national acclaim.

Lets get back to festivals!  Each fall we start applying to juried art festivals for the following year, trying to keep the bar high enough that we don’t end up on a street corner flea market.   We try to put together a cohesive schedule that allows to travel with some degree of prudent direction.   We start this process with a devil-may-care-attitude and wild ambition.

We are nearing the end of summer and we  realize that we have bit off more festivals than we can chew.   The end of summer “stretch”  is upon us.  We have traveled seven states in the past seven weeks.   Montana, Wyoming,North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota,  all of these art festivals have been hard work, yet enjoyable.   Most often we can enjoy a sunny afternoon (104-107 degree heat) or chance of rain (3 inches with the port-a- pots floating by).     We harbor no ill, our lifestyle dictates these bouts with nature.  We buck up and know that western South Dakota and a sprint to New Mexico are nothing more than one or two day drives.   Knowing that we have artist and musician friends that we will reconnect with, bouys our enthusiasm.  After the festivals are over for the day, we will spend the nights jamming and playing music with our artist and artisan family.  It’s a dreamy d& gritty world of hard work and trust.  Trust in the fact that few people will let you down.  Trust, in the fact that you will reconnect with those that appreciate your work  and you, appreciating them.

Our reconnection with our customers is paramount.   We love them, we need them and our mantra,…..we always keep our gratitude higher than our expectations.    If we work hard and have a good show, then we have to go home and work hard at production for the next show.   It is a vicious cycle and you have to feed the beast you create!

If I was a fine artist and sold a print  of my paintings, I would go and have a reprint made so I could sell another.  Alas, I am in the artisan catagory (leathersmith), when I sell a product, I have to work hard and make another product.

We travel with many different artists and artisans.   We travel together weeks at a time, much longer than I spend with my kindred friends in my own hometown.   We see artist friends in Arizona and then meet up again in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Minneapolis, MN.

As a mobile and transient art community we suffer thru all the same afflictions that a sedentary community encounters.  This year we celebrated births and deaths and many emotional turmoils….common to everyone, everywhere.

We cross all manner of social biomes.  One night we take our little motorhome into the fanciest of neighborhoods (World Bank board members) and the next night we are encamped under an interstate underpass….in “Bloods and Cripes” territory.   We fancy ourselves as  masters of public relations….where ever we travel.

Vacations become a matter of question, because we are  working hard AND having FUN on the road, perhaps we need some down time?   That time might be spent in our own community just going to work.  Work at home seems easier and much more predictable when you don’t have to take in the elements of nature and doing an outdoor festival.  Many times we have questioned our efforts when a tornado warning is being announced and we are holding on to our tent stakes.   The brick and mortar store front seems quite attractive.  We acknowledge our employees back home and how vital they are to our success.  They are held in highest regard.

We have built a solid repoire with our patrons at each and every show.  When we return the following year it is heartening to reacquaint.  The renewal of our friendship is not predicated on making another sale.  The extension of that friendship allows us to explore further into their lives and their community.

Though we are a bit weary and sliding into the last grips of summer/fall, it is a fun adventure that allows us to meet our customers and patrons.   The arts and humanities are not just idle words to us.   The arts and humanities are our life and our lifestyle.  Our gratitude is always higher than our expectations.

Bill Keitel

UnVarnished Essays/RoadNotes

The Blue Mounds State Park – Birding the Big Blue!

The Blue Mounds State Park

Wu & Ling Min

– A Birding Adventure

My companions are my wife, Les and Louise Rogers and our new new found friends Wu and Dr. Ling Min from Taiwan. They have arrived in South Western Minnesota to spend a weekend and to build their life list of birds and friendships.

Dr. Ling Min is a wildlife veterinarian, she has pursued her studies at the Endemic Species Research Institute in Taiwan. Ling Min has been selected to serve a two year internship and is working with Dr. Julia Ponder-UMN Raptor Center-Veterinary Medicine College. Ling Min has been trained in handling American Bald Eagles, Falcons and other large birds of prey in the USA.

Her husband Wu studied political science and then became interested in wildlife & geography. After his military service discharge he chose to work at the Endemic Species Research Institute/Ornithology Lab and recently completed a two year field research project.

The Raptor Center is affiliated with the University of Minnesota and over the years it has garnered a well deserved National and International reputation for its expertise in the veterinary & conservation sciences of raptor rehabilitation, education & research. The Raptor Center treats injured bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks and owls of all species. All of these birds are federally protected so the area the Raptor Center serves, knows no state boundaries. Their reputation continues to grow as the public becomes aware of the good they do. The Raptor Center is celebrating its 40 year anniversary, they currently treat between 700 and 900 birds of prey yearly.

The alarm clock rang at 4:30 a.m., it seemed a bit early, yet we rose with great vigor knowing full well that we had a 50- 50 chance of bad weather and exceedingly high winds. With a devil may care attitude we donned rain gear and set forth in light sprinkles. Our destination was the Blue Mounds State Park. A short 30 minute drive from my home. The Blue Mounds is noted for its bison herd. It also continues to be one of the best kept secrets in the MidWest. It defies the topographic flatness that much of the midwestern tall grass prairie has to offer. If you motor by on interstate 90 you don’t get a sense of its presence, you can’t see the elevation and the 1 ½ billion year old rock outcroppings of Morton Gneiss, commonly called Sioux Quartzite. Few people know that this rock was positioned on the equator about 500 million years ago and recently the American Geological Society has come to understand that a curious phenomena occurred during this epoch. The Morton Gneiss was situated on a equatorial shoreline and yet there were signs of ice and snow at this geologic time & place.

Today the Oak leaves are the size of squirrels ears and it means the spring warbler migration is in full progress. The conditions aren’t great, it’s windy, sky is grey and the humidity is begging the rain to fall. We arrive at the Blue Mounds at dawn and park at the historic rock quarry. We immediately see a dozen or so Turkey Vultures playing off the breeze that lifts and rises over the tall rock cliffs. This is my ancestral homeland, The rock quarry is a place that I grew up playing in the rocks and crevasses. I know most every boulder and rock. When the effort is made to get up earlier than usual you are allowed special privileges. You are able to heighten your awareness because it is quiet, no motor noise, just the wind building a stout breeze. This wind keeps our warbler friends closer to the ground and closer to the cliff line as they seek protection in the wind shadow of the cliffs. My new found friends have traveled some distance to go birding and I have an inkling of concern that I must not fail to produce some birds!

After a short walk to the quarry we see a precious few birds. Our companions make for good company and we dispel any notion of the fact that the weather might be getting worse. We decide to rock climb to the top of the quarry, it is a good climb for people that are not faint of heart and it is easier if you are blessed with long legs. Throwing caution to the wind, everybody made it to the top!

If you have not been to the top of the Blue Mounds you have a limited sense of the landscape in which you reside. The view is incomparable, if you have a spotting scope & on a crystal clear day you can see the water towers in Luverne, Rock Rapids, Magnolia, Adrian, Rushmore & my town (Worthington) that is 30 miles in the distance. You can also see Iowa and the glowing lights of Sioux Falls South Dakota on an ordinary night. You can sense the curvature of the earth from this elevation.

We catch our breath and commence to hike in the treetops of the mighty oaks that are growing at the base of the cliffs far below.
Mist is in the air and the rocks become slippery. We could not climb back down if this continues! Alas, as I peer downward into the boughs and branches of the bur oak trees we get a truly good sighting, an Indigo Bunting is a most brilliantly colored bird. You live a life deprived if you have never seen this jewel of nature. Bird books with all the latest photography & printing technology can not capture the essence of an Indigo Bunting. These bird are in our midst and yet they remain invisible to the public unless you seek them out. They are small and a bit reclusive, but worth every effort once revealed.

The enthusiasm our companions display is infectious. We all spot a hawk high in the sky and I hesitate to identify the species for fear of being wrong. Wu then speaks up and confidently states that it is a Broad winged Hawk and that it is 2 years old! I try to grasp how he is able to ascertain that information and turn to him and ask, “how do you know?”. With a smile he states that the tail feathers of this Broad wing are slightly different in marking than an adult Broad wing because of the juvenile molt. I am humbled by his knowledge.

The Tennessee Warbler is another bird that confused me and my binoculars. I ask Wu how he could so confidently and quickly identify this non descript bird? Wu stated “if you look at the white eyebrow, the dark eye line, the gray head, and the thin pointed bill & white under parts, there is nothing particularly identifiable…..so it must be a Tennessee Warbler!  Bird after bird, we walk through the bur oaks in the high elevations of the Blue Mounds. When we get back to the car, Wu systematically jots down every species that we have seen. I had hoped to present them with the sighting of a Blue Grosbeak and an Upland Sandpiper. Alas, they did not appear. Our friends were not disappointed because they had seen these in previous outings.

We spent the day in pursuit and by the days end we identified 54 or 55 species. Had I gone out by myself, I would have returned with perhaps 35 species. The Blue Mounds State Park Adventure added two species that Wu and Ling Min had not seen before. They were able to add them to their “life list”. My life list is perhaps 80 to 120 different species……I haven’t counted. I asked Wu about his life list and he was able to add the two additional species provided by the Blue Mounds trek & the total came to 909 species!

If you weren’t an avid birder the day was cloudy, cold, grey and miserable. Shoulder to shoulder we hiked with our new birding companions, we found the day quite enjoyable.

The miles we hiked, we came to realize that the adventure is in our own backyard.

billkeitel May 2014


Rock Art Ranch 2-17-14


We take the Winslow exit and drive south on highway 87 & 99. We head east on Territorial Road. If you have an aversion to dirt and dusty roads, stop and turn around right here!


Our destination is a place called Rock Art Ranch. Earlier in the day I picked up the phone and asked if we could come and visit. The ranch is far off the road, so a personal invite is almost required by the owner Brantly Baird. Mention is made that if it is raining, turn around because the roads are impassable for most tourist vehicles. We travel in a very small R.V. & pull a ten foot trailer. We consider ourselves somewhat nimble in the R.V. World. We have crossed little streams and driven up steep roadways at 10,000 +ft. and we have a small turning radius and can make u-turns in any intersection. This happens OFTEN when we are exploring.


My wife and I are avid hikers/walkers/explorers. When we are on the road we have a penchant to seek out natural hot springs and native petroglyphs. France might have the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre but Arizona has a best kept secret…an outdoor art exhibit called Rock Art Ranch.


We travel 12 miles on gravel, then another 2 miles on dirt, then another 3 miles down dusty roads to our destination. We are met by Brantly and his son, they have unsuccessfully been trying to round up buffalo during the afternoon. The ranch is large enough that they never found them. They assured me that they are out there somewhere ….and then lamented, if they actually ran off, it would be a blessing. Brantly squints at me and says “our nearest neighbor is 17 miles away….and sometimes thats to close”


The dust settles and we peruse the ranch and the rather rocky landscape. At his homestead there are dozens of gigantic old tree trunks collected from close proximity to the nearby Petrified National Forest. As we break the ice I extend my hand and I comment that “it looks like you’ve had a problem growing trees around here?” He has a warm smile and says “they died about 80 million years ago and I haven’t been able to grow much since.”, “We’ve got a live tree over by the barn that is ten feet tall” Brantly says with dry wit.


Brantly hands us a key and tells us we can head back down some dusty roads that trail off in the distance. The key opens a locked gate & entrance to the canyon and the walls that are the palette of ancient rock art. We are advised to lock all gates and since there are not amenities like electricity,running water and cell phone coverage……you are on your own. Brantlys son knows we have spend the past 4 weeks amongst thousands of tourists at various art festivals. He smiles and says “it might be a bit quieter than you’re used to” , another understatement.


It is mid to late afternoon and we take off quickly as not to miss the long shadows of the afternoon and evening. We arrive in a whirl of dust and drive into the corral, we shut all the gates around us. This allows us protection from the buffalo or the cattle that might want to eat the windshield wipers off of our vehicle during the time we spent at this remote location.

No time is spent preparing our site. We quickly hike down to explore the canyon and to find the artwork. With each downward step into the canyon we descend into what seems like another biome. The upper desert plains are swept by the Sonoran winds that stir the exposed sandstone into the air. The canyon offers relief from wind, intense sunlight, intense cold and has a life giving stream that flows off the very, very distance mountain toward Flagstaff.

Over the eon’s the light sandstone walls have developed a black patina that is a perfect chalkboard. For thousands of years native and not so native people have been using art and images to define their territory. Today our society uses spray paint on railroad cars. The Anasazi did not have the luxury of spray paint and had to resort to pecking the surface of the canyon with a sharp rock.

As we travel to various petroglyph sights throughout the South West, we remain curious and open to what they might signify and what they might be trying to relay to the viewer.

Rock Art Ranch is known for having exceptional Pre-Columbian petroglyphs including one called the “birthing mother” It is a rare petrographic depiction of the birthing event.


With each trip to various petroglyph sites we evaluate what we have seen and try to ascertain their meanings and relationships to the surroundings. Enclosed find a photograph that depicts what seems to be a complete family unite.

A family unit living in harmony, the larger persons are shown holding hands. There is much to ponder in the larger picture. Just two feet in the distance is another adult like figure. He is followed by a succession of dots. Dot, dot, dot, dot, He is either leading the way and taking the entire family unit to someplace else, or perhaps he has wandered from the family, and they acknowledge his absence by this image. It seems hard to determine. He has left an effect on his family unit and they pay homage to his distance by this portrayal.

The Anasazi surroundings are as hospitable as any place you might find in the south west. They have been provided with a tolerable climate, suitable water supply in an arid desert. Wildlife abounds throughout the canyon lands and the surrounding desert and provides a plentiful food source. The beaver trim the red willow along the stream, dam building and providing for the fish, turtles and frogs. In the quiet of late afternoon and early morning it provided us with an insight into their near perfect neighborhood.

For many years the Anasazi were thought to be a near perfect society, living in harmony with their surroundings as seen in this beautiful canyon. Recently, scientific research has shown that their society met with an untimely end. Their Anasazi-Chaco Canyon relatives were victims of anthropophagy, was it outsiders? Insiders or lack or resource, it is hard to know. Anthropophagy is commonly known as cannibalism.


This place was a valued and treasured resource thousands of years ago. It remains the same today.


Bill Keitel

Road Notes/UnVarnished Essays February 2014

Paul Gruchow-Diary of a young madman.

RoadNotes Feb. 22 2014

While traveling southwesterly a friend of mine sought me out and handed me a book to read. The book quite unexpectedly unleashed a wave of emotion. I had not realized that Paul’s memoirs had been published 14 months earlier. Much to his credit Louis Martinelli has recognized the importance of this work. He has worked tirelessly to see it to fruition.

If you have grown up in Minnesota or even the Midwest you probably have been given the opportunity to appreciate Paul Gruchow. Paul had won the Minnesota Book & Lifetime Achievement Awards in the 1980′s. He also edited the Worthington Daily Globe an award winning newpaper. As I remember Paul was invited to give the keynote address for the 75th anniversary of the Foshay Tower.

Paul was a dear friend to many Worthington residents, myself included. When the oak leaves were the size of squirrels ears, we would canoe the Rock River. We found it to have more wildlife per square mile than the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We identified confusing spring warblers, Redstarts and Blue Grosbeaks that flitted in the tops of old cottonwood trees. One minute our canoe would speed down the rapids and next it would bottom out on a gravel bar. It was the gravel bar where the rare and elusive Topeka Shiner found its northern most home.

The memoirs are a lucid glimpse into the darkness of mental illness. Paul was a professionally trained observer. His incredible writing skills captured his journey into this curious, yet sad episode of his life. He was bedeviled in that he could not appreciate his own talent.

In the ensuing years I suspect psychologists and psychiatrists could use this book in futher understanding the daunting challenges of mental illness by the insight he offers.

My final conversation with Paul was prompted because I had just become aware that he was suffering. Our conversation was forced and uncomfortable. A good friend had grown distant……he was to busy writing his last book. Paul Gruchow died Feb. 22 2004

Diary of a young madman- A Memoir – by Paul Gruchow
foreward by Louis Martinelli


Tree Houses 2013


By a stroke of luck I have had the good fortune to live in the same home for 29 years. This time frame has allowed me to plant an acorn and watch it grow into a magnificent Bur Oak tree. During this time I have nurtured it, pruned it, and watered it. I have been greatly rewarded in many ways.

Other recent rewards in my life have been grand fatherhood. This new position offers rewarding activities as well, activities that might not be as easily available to all citizens.

For instance I can (at long last) go out and buy a butterfly net, with the premise that it is for my grandchildren without any regard to what other people think. I can also build a tree house in the cherished Bur Oak Tree without to much concern about gossip. The treehouse is for the “Grand Children” and the fact that I dote over the every aspect and enjoy sitting in it, is of great satisfaction and reward.


You can ponder many things in an Oak tree. I am starting to realize that you can observe the changing of the seasons in an Oak tree. Right above my head I listen to the Cicada’s as they whirl their winged communications across time and space. They are communicating in a language that I do not understand. It is September and recently the leaves have changed on this tree. The leaves were once green and soft and the acorns were in full fruition. Tonight as the sun is setting the leaves are starting to lose their suppleness and moisture. Nearly all the acorns have been harvested by the local squirrels and the tree has a distinctly different feel. The squirrel is currently sitting directly above me and dropping acorn hulls on my computer.


As I sit in this lofty perch I realize that this tree it is living, and it has its own lifecycle. The days are shortening and it is preparing to endure the autumn and winter months. I suspect its roots are redirecting moisture preparing to retreat from the outermost reaches of its limbs. As I gaze about I see lichen growing on the bark on the northerly side of the tree. The lichen is green and brown and I need to consult an expert on this life form before I expound.


When the wind picks up, the treehouse has movement. The movement is ever so slight but it reacts to the forces in a gentle and subtle way. A robin lands two feet from me, he must disassociate me with a human because I am ten feet off the ground. He cocks his head at me…..shows no fear, a Cedar Waxwing alights four feet above me with no concern, Oh! And there is a chipping Sparrow. It is the beginning of fall migration and I suspect that if I had camouflage clothing they would land on my shoulders.


Grandparenthood has allowed me to purchase the material for this treehouse with grand delight. I entered the lumberyard and ordered clear cedar and on my receipt it even totals the weight of my purchase. My tree house weighs precisely 114 pounds excluding the screws and cables to suspend it from the tree. All due respect is given this tree and no nails or bolts will penetrate the bark or trunk. I also purchase cables to suspend it from sturdy branches that are about four inches in diameter. Each of the four cables can hold up to 850 pounds. The branch is shielded from the cable with industrial hose material to prevent any damage to the tree. It is a rather small platform of four by six feet. This is just enough room for two or three people to sit comfortably. The height of the platform is proximately ten feet off the ground and it is neatly tucked into the lower canopy of leaves and branches.


As aforementioned this tree house was built for our grandchildren and as they live in far off St. Paul we find ourselves using it more than these youngsters. It was built in the spring when the leaves were the size of squirrels ears. It stood out from afar but now that the leaves are at their maximum coverage it almost disappears in the foliage.


A mid summer picnic acclimated friends and neighbors to the treehouse and many wanted their pictures taken in the miniature arboreal abode. The upper branches can hold an additional four or five people. Bur Oak trees are accommodating and people friendly.


With these notions and observations I start to ponder a past civilization that revered trees so much that they worshipped them. The Druids in Europe recognized the importance of trees and the integral part that trees played in their lives. Consider every aspect of their lives being touched by wood. Boats, benches, houses, barns, tool handles, lance and arrows, all made only of wood. Much of this wood was not only harvested but it was also “cultivated”. Many trees were coppiced to produce a particular type of wooden branch or sprout. Coppicing, most often involves cutting a perfectly good oak tree about 10 to 15 feet off the ground. The suckers that sprout from the trunk are a valuable source of straight roof rafters for your stone age hut. The sprouts were often 3 to 4 inches in diameter and would run a perfectly good “10 feet long”. They could be harvested for many years to come. We won’t be doing that with our treehouse tree!

Winter will reveal the stark reality of the upper midwest. As the tree goes dormant, so will the tree house. Stay tuned for the second story.


Alaska & The Columbian Exchange (part 3)

After an hour of flight time we found ourselves in the taiga/tundra and we were in an area that looked and felt like the Florida Everglades rather than Alaska. There are water and riverine type confluences in all directions, for miles and miles. The hum of the engine kept us focused on our goal St. Mary’s on the Yukon.

Soon we are following a large river and through my headset I am told that it is the Yukon. We follow it for another twenty minutes at one hundred seventy miles per hour, as I stare blankly at the auto pilot. Soon the village of St. Mary’s appears below on the banks of this great river. Houses appear all neatly oriented along the river and the boats are all helter skelter on the shoreline. There is a road….or maybe just an ATV pathway from the landing strip, in the upcoming distance a small gravel runway. We bank to the right, set down and come to a halt within two hundred yards. We then taxi onto a bituminous tarmac that denotes the main terminal.

The plane comes to a halt and we were met by a native that seemed to have anticipated our arrival. He brought us fresh smoked salmon. A startlingly realization takes place when I come to understand that we aren’t on a tourist trip. People have come to off load our plane so we can quickly return to Anchorage. I sat a bit beleaguered realizing that after a two hour flight, deep into the Alaskan bush. This was as close as I was going to get to this village and the Yupik inhabitants. It is time to return to Anchorage.


I’ve recently finished a book called “1493 – Uncovering the New World Columbus Created” by Charles C. Mann. This book describes the events of commerce that started to take place the moment Columbus landed in the northern hemisphere. This event started the exchange of knowledge and commerce that continues to this day.


The book allows me to understand my time and place in the Yupik village of St. Mary’s Alaska. I realize that a “Columbian Exchange” has just taken place. We are still trading with the “natives” and participating in the “Columbian Exchange” that began 500 years ago.


I then realize that I have the insight to understand what the Yupik nation might want from a society outside their domain. I can analyze their cargo! Anthropology #101 ! The Yupik people and their culture have historically existed on salmon and moose. I start viewing my photos to see what we have brought them. What does this culture want from the outside world?

On the tarmac sat the three pallets of neatly shrink wrapped cargo. Wrapped to keep it from sliding around in the plane. I was able to study the photographs and quiz the pilot to get an understanding of the exchange and the cargo that we brought them.


Forty six of Alaska’s 250 villages still do not have piped water or sewer but this curious exchange allows them the following; Approximately 20 to 25 % of the cargo weight was beef. Another heavy portion was soda pop. Other packages contained Wheat Thins and something called Pilot Bread. I believe this is a hard tack biscuit that goes good with fish. Ketchup, flour, sugar & pizza hot pockets were amongst the remaining cargo.

Our exchange is complete so we take our backpacks and gear to the plane we are to return to Anchorage.  We taxi down the runway, liftoff and with our backs to the sun and lift off.   We are   one ton lighter and our airplane is seems much more nimble.  On our return flight we pass over a gold mining camp and we skirt around a raging forest fire that can be seen miles in the distance.

As we fly home we snack on their smoked salmon and I ponder and suspect that they are enjoying our beef.   The Columbian Exchange 2013   bkeitel









My community has a little over 50 miles of paved roads. Consider that there are only one hundred times that amount of paved roadways in all of Alaska. Looking at a map of Alaska, you will understand that there are only so many places that you can drive. You can drive to Seward. You can drive to Homer. You can drive to Fairbanks. You can drive to Prudhoe Bay. These paved roads are equivalent to less than one complete road along a small portion of the coastline of Alaska. This also explains why at least one in seventy two people have airplanes. Some people have more than one. The number of pilots is closely the same, it is about five times the national average.

Alaska has expanse; approximately the same square miles as Minnesota,Wisconsin,Iowa, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana combined. Alaska encompasses

663,000 square miles. The population in Alaska is about 730,000 (109,500) of whom are native peoples. This leaves the newest immigrant population of Alaskans at 620,000 or about four times the size of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That works out to one person per square mile; the average throughout the U.S. Is 87 people per square mile.

Alaska is a curious place and the people are as genuine as any place I’ve traveled. You’ve heard all the descriptions: rugged individualists, woodsman extraordinaire, do-it -yourselfers. My experience drifted off in a slightly different direction when my niece’s husband asked if I would like to fly with him on a “mail run” to a remote Yupik village on the Yukon River. Willie Coon is a veteran bush pilot having flown to most every Inuit village in Alaska. His plane is a ten-passenger Grand Caravan, a work horse in the industry. A similar plane needs an annual mechanical check up and it resides in the small village of St. Mary’s on the Yukon. We intend to fly there and switch planes, then bring it back for servicing. Willies company decides to have him pick up mail and cargo to be delivered to St. Mary’s to defray the fuel expense of a four or five hour flight. Willie has cut his teeth in aviation with honors. His career has been spent in the wilds of this great state, meeting people and going places others just dream about. William Coon got his pilots license about the same time he received his drivers license. There is little room for travel romance in the work-a-day-world of a bush pilot.


We take off from Wasilla and fly to Anchorage International Airport to pick up our cargo that is to be transported to St. Mary’s. With a few sharp turns and quick descent that is dictated by flight control we alight next to a 747 Cathay International air freight liner. We are diminished by its size.


The loading crew immediately approaches with fork lifts and two pallets of mail and cargo. Our passenger seats have all been folded back and are ready to accept the cargo. It is time to take or cargo to the little village of four hundred Yupiks on the inner reaches of the Yukon. It is another day of work for the pilot and it is an adventure of uncommon merit for me!


We left Anchorage International headed westerly with sunlight bright in our faces. Within ten minutes there was not a roadway in sight. All signs of civilization had vanished, stark foreboding mountains lay ahead. We wend our way through rocky peaks, not a blade of grass, lichen or moss seems to be found on the mountains below us. Not a goat, not a marmot, not any sort of animal could survive this mountainous terrain. We were in the “outback”, pure Alaska. I held my breath as we went headlong into sunrise or sunset? This was Alaskan summer and nobody seems to have a handle on the time sequence. The sun never sets so many people just continued to stay awake and do things. It is my fervent hope that they all exercised caution and good judgement.


After an hour of flight time we found ourselves in the taiga/tundra and we were in an area that looked and felt like the Florida Everglades. There are water and riverine type confluences in all directions, for miles and miles. The hum of the engine kept us focused on our goal St. Mary’s on the Yukon.


Soon we are following a large river and through my headset I am told that it is the Yukon. We follow it for another twenty minutes at one hundred seventy miles per hour, as I stare blankly at the auto pilot. Soon the village of St. Mary’s appears below on the banks of this great river. Houses appear all neatly oriented along the river and the boats are all helter skelter on the shoreline. There is a road….or maybe just an ATV pathway from the landing strip, in the upcoming distance a small gravel runway. We bank to the right, set down and come to a halt within two hundred yards. We then taxi onto a bituminous tarmac that denotes the main terminal.

The plane comes to a halt and we were met by a native that seemed to have anticipated our arrival. He brought us fresh smoked salmon. A startlingly realization takes place when I come to understand that we aren’t on a tourist trip. People have come to off load the plane so we can quickly return to Anchorage. I sat a bit beleaguered realizing that this was as close as I was going to get to this village and the inhabitants. It is time to return to Anchorage.



TUTUS IN TALKEETNA (three parts travel in Alaska) RoadNotes


Tonight I find myself in Talkeetna, Alaska, a town of wood framed houses. The mountaineers who climb Denali use this village as their last outpost before heading to base camp on the tallest mountain in North America. Hype is a daily commodity, Denali looms large and tall, there is no need for bluster in Talkeetna. The mountain is so remote that tourists only get a view of it from miles in the distance. At arms length it stands only one inch off the horizon.

It is late, I look out the window of the Wildflower Bed and Breakfast perched above the main street and I observe a bit of raucous behavior. A couple of young women prance and cantor along the main street of Talkeetna. This theatric spectacle is usually reserved for the shadowy darkness of midnight. But this evening is the summer solstice in Alaska and the sun never sets; there is no such thing as darkness.

The two pretty young ladies match step and prance down the street. They are in cowgirl boots and matching pink and yellow tutus. They are headed for the local roadhouse down at the end of the block, bedecked in sequins and all things frilly. It is late and I am tired so I can’t motivate myself to photograph them, but if you go to Talkeetna you should seek them out. They manifest the “devil may care attitude that comes with living in these parts. I hear the historic music of Robert and Tommy Johnson emanating from the roadhouse.

The gals continue to saunter and prance down the street at 11:15 p.m. not a hit of darkness overcomes them. They have endured months of darkness. The daylight doesn’t stifle their parade, they have limited inhibitions. They gallop & saunter on, the night is as young as they are. There is no such thing as “sunset” this time of year.

I have had the fortune to struggle with language barriers and cultural barriers but the solar barrier is unending this time of year. Earlier, I had placed a call to the bed and breakfast to let them know that I would be arriving late. When I mentioned “We’ll be there by dark”….she replied, “You mean October?”   Alaska is many things to many people.  The solar phenomena sheds an ever present light on everything Alaskan.


My town is different than your town – Accommodating Spirit

My town is different than your town. You might go many places and travel far and wide. I have an interesting community that allows me to enjoy the far flung reaches of the world…..right in my own back yard.

Recently the news is all about “immigration” and our national concerns for security. I find “security” in my own back yard and in my community. Before you respond to the hype and fear about immigration (legal or undocumented) let me tell you about my community.

I am a small business man that has modestly prospered in this curious setting. I have come to embrace the fine people that are immigrating to my community. They have become the life blood that has allowed our community to continue to prosper….in a time when the demographics are completely against us.

Our community is located just south of the mythical “Lake Wobegone”and we typify those demographic characteristics.

Our accommodation of the newest immigrants started about 25 years ago with the Vietnamese and Laotian peoples. It has continued throughout the decades and has been of great benefit to this community, a community that would have demographically drifted off the charts…because of an aging population.
Many of my Lao and Vietnamese friends are here…because they stood up for “American Ideals” and risked both their lives and the lives of their families, much to their credit. In quiet moments, I have heard their stories….it has brought tears to my eyes….. I have a profound respect for them. American Idealism?…I have not sacrificed, like they have sacrificed. If they would tell you their stories….you would have a new found respect for the immigrant experience. Immigration doesn’t happen because “things are dandy!” Immigration happens because people are at the limits of their own (moral) tolerance.

Today , I can take my 3 block walk to work and say “hello” in numerous & different languages. Sai Bai Dee (Lao), Buenos Dias (Mexico, Guatemalan,El Salvador ), De Tu Jot (Sudanese) Djow Go (Vietnamese), Ka May La ha (Eithiopean) mengalaba (Karen) its is perhaps a crude rendition of their languages….but it allows me a comfort zone with my new neighbors. I have them sign an atlas in my store….it allows me the ability to understand where they have come from and often times it allows me to understand some of their travails. They all enjoy and appreciate my attempt to speak in their native tongue(they laugh at me) , as they continue to become assimilated into our community. We are a small community and we strive to make sure that know one is anonymous.

Assimilate…..they have! I am convinced that these new found immigrants have saved my community. They have purchased homes, they have purchased cars, they have kept our grocery stores busy. They have created their own grocery stores. Many have started their own businesses, some try and some fail….for that I think more of them, not less. They are the new graduates at the local community college. They have become the New Worthington. There might be a few people that consider this immigration a threat…..those folks are prone to fear and loss of their standing within their perceived place within our community. The good news is that the majority of folks around these parts recognize that this “immigration thing” is of great value to our community!

If you are looking for the latest trendy shopping mall or strip mall (filled with brand named stores) this might not be the place for you. We do have many standardized big box stores, however if you are looking for a real “WORLD MARKET” experience, I encourage you to come and visit Worthington.

It won’t be completely “standardized” with all the generic brand name stores….but if you have a truly adventuresome spirit…..you can enjoy a “real” World Market experience. Ma and Pa stores are sprouting up as we speak…..and they are the new entrepreneurial spirit of Worthington.

Immigration has never been “clean and tidy”, it has a “learning curve”. My community, Worthington has stepped up to the plate and embraced that spirit of accommodation. We learn from our friends, we learn from our new found immigrants, we learn from being able to say….”I don’t understand you, explain to me… again” that is what it means to be accommodating….We aren’t afraid to understand our new neighbors. We recognize that “They” are our new beginnings. We have been re-invented and though we do make mistakes….we recover and strive to learn from them.   We have every reason to stand tall and be proud.

Worthington has benefited from its new found immigrants and I suspect….history will eventually write a new chapter about this community and its “Accommodating Spirit.”

Bill Keitel
Worthington MN.

(reprint Eventos Magazine-Minnesota )