Chuck Haga: Finding comfort among the tall pines

Chuck Haga is a columnist for the Grand Forks Herald. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

It’s fairly easy, sitting by a campfire in the dark of a November night, to see what’s next.

The temperature in Itasca State Park’s Pine Ridge Campground has fallen from 70 degrees to 50, then 40, and should hit 32 – freezing – by dawn. That’s the weather forecast, not always precisely accurate but better, it seems, than political polls.

I am confident, as I sit here by myself, the sole tent camper in the park, that after these few wonderful days of bonus calm, sun and warmth, that winter will come. No petitioner, no judge can stop it. There will be sleet, snow, wind and cold. Bears will hibernate to escape it. But we the people will handle it. We will dress warmly, walk more carefully, learn to winter drive again.

Christmas will come, then New Year’s Day – yes, thank god, a new year! And soon, though it will seem to take forever, Itasca’s maples and oaks and aspens will leaf out again, Douglas Lodge will reopen and serve blueberry pie with ice cream, and children will squeal with delight as they yank sunfish from Elk Lake.

Spring will come, then summer, then maybe a better fall than this one with its bitterness and bluster.


What’s next, America, in politics, in our national discourse?

That is not so clear to me.

Remain hopeful and engaged, good friends urge. This, too, shall pass – this age of arrogant, sneering denial of science, shattering of faith in vital institutions and willful distortion of the motives and integrity of good people.

I feel no urge to re-litigate the late election, though thousands of lawyers are doing just that. “Keep counting votes,” some argue, while others say “Stop counting now.” If he loses, the president says, that will be proof that the election was rigged.

I don’t know what this is, but it doesn’t feel like democracy.

Half of the country’s voters – nearly two-thirds of North Dakota’s! – have declared for Donald Trump. Give him another four years, despite all the evidence of the past four years. I really don’t understand. The general indictment of the man seemed overwhelming to me, but it apparently wasn’t enough to persuade half the country. Some no doubt held their nose and said they were voting against abortion, or for less immigration, or for their 401(k). But for many others, he represents their values.

“Even if Biden wins he will have to govern in a Trump country,” Gabriel Sherman writes in Vanity Fair. “This is who America is.”

What’s next for the environment, for social justice, for race in America? For our faith in a free, vigorous press, in science, in a fair justice system at home and a respectful diplomacy abroad?


Whether Trump retains the White House or not, my view of what’s next is blurry at best. Where stand we on empathy? On the dream of a united, progressive America? (Yes, I use the term “progressive” deliberately, because I’m angry about how the word has been vilified and misrepresented.)

There will be calls for us to come together, to try to understand where others are coming from. Democrats need to find better ways to talk to Trump supporters, historian Jon Meacham says. But Trump supporters need to find a better way to listen if we are to form a new social covenant.

It’s too easy, a friend says, to tell people to be kind to the other side when the election is over and a winner is declared. Go on with your life. That may be the best advice for some of us, but many others without our level of privilege are terrified of what’s next – scared for their health, their freedom, their future.

I’ll accept the results because that’s what you do in a democracy, but if during this sordid campaign you have called me a snowflake or a “libtard” – or “an enemy of the people” or a traitor – I’m not inclined to resume the conversation.

Itasca’s great pines can seem so sturdy, so timeless, but I know they are vulnerable to pests, wind and fire. Still, they comfort me. I lean on them. Sometimes even in uncertain November.

Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at

What To Read Next
Get Local