The sixteenth of October, Thursday, 5:11 PM.
I sit on a bench after walking around the information building. It closed at 4:30. If I hadn’t dragged my feet getting here, I could have looked inside. I’ve been living in this city for three years now, and I still have yet to see what’s inside the building.
When I first pull up on my bike, a family of four is taking a picture at Paul’s feet, and a couple with a border collie walk by. My assignment is to hang out with the two iconic statues for two hours to see who pays them a visit. I barely have enough time to lock my bike and pull out my notebook before the people move on. As I move from my bike to the bench, four students walk behind the statues, heading back to their car. There is one boy and three girls, all about high school age and wearing sweatshirts.
Currently 65 degrees, winds west at 22 miles per hour, sunset at 6:28 PM.
A white Ford truck pulls off Bemidji Avenue North. There is a girl wearing camo who leans out the window to snap a picture of the pair before her father drives back out onto the main road. They turn north. I wonder if they are going on a father-daughter hunting trip.
From where I’m sitting I can’t hear what they say, but I imagine it all the same.
“This is the last town before we get to the cabin. Where do you want to get dinner?” the dad asks.
“Applebee’s. I really want chicken alfredo and a mango smoothie.”
In 1937 the Paul Bunyan Carnival leader, Hector Brown, delegated the building of a Paul Bunyan statue to Cyril Dickinson, of the Dickinson Construction Company. Dickinson used Earl Bucklen, the mayor at the time, as a model for the statue. Paul weighs eight tons in total and stands eighteen feet tall.
Two blond women with a little dog that looks like a Weiner walk over from the parking lot. They stand on the brick walk with their cell phones in their hands. Shots are snapped as the dog roams around on its leash. They look like they are waiting for someone.
A multigenerational family of five show up shortly after. They don’t seem to be the people the two women with the dog are waiting for. Grandma, the mom and the oldest child hang back as the younger boy and girl run under and around Babe the Blue Ox.
The Bemidji Rotary Club was asked in 1937 to build Paul’s trusty companion, Babe the Big Blue Ox. The actual task of building the ox fell to James Payton. The statue was built on a three-to-one scale of a real bull owned by a local logging camp. The only change made to the design was in the legs, which were made farther apart so a truck could be driven under the animal.
Two little girls stand on Paul’s feet as their mother takes their picture. She lines the girls up in the camera in an amateur-professional manner. After the photo with Paul, the girls stand under Babe. The mother and her two girls go for a walk around the information building.
The two women with their little dog must have gotten bored with waiting. They loaded themselves back into their car.
I find myself smiling people, watching and fighting with the wind as it tries to turn the pages of my notebook. I wonder what the people I’m watching are thinking as they watch me. A girl looking about high school age, in jeans, black skater shoes, and a green BSU sweatshirt zipped-up halfway. I hope they aren’t offended by my watching them.
Three actual high school girls pose under Babe’s chin, making duck faces for a selfie. They giggle like high school girls do as they walk away.
Shortly after they leave, a game of tag starts up. The amateur-professional photographer mom and her two girls are back. Paul seems to be the safe zone.
As the two girls chase each other, two boys finish a loop around the area. One has his hair in a sloppy half-pony, while the other carries a spiky, pink backpack.
An elderly couple strolls behind the statues and the kids. They are headed toward the lake.
The game of tag has grown to six grade school girls. Four mothers stand huddled together, talking. The girls circle the spotlight in the grassy patch next to where I’m sitting. Sometimes one smiles before she rushes out of reach.
For two years Babe traveled around the country to promote Bemidji as a place to visit. He was mounted on a one-and-a-half-ton International truck with the exhaust pipes rigged to make it look like Babe was breathing. Babe joined Paul on the shore of Lake Bemidji in 1939.
Not long after the game of tag starts, a guy dressed in a red shirt and black pants appears in the parking lot. Like the two women with the dog, he looks like he is waiting for someone. He paces for a little bit, looks at his phone, paces some more and then makes a short phone call.
A seagull glides into the wind overhead.
The guy in red has made up his mind and comes to talk with the four gathered moms. As he gets closer, I started to think that he looks a lot like one of my bosses for ticket sales at the college. He passes out business cards.
“If you need tickets for any of the upcoming venues, give me a call. I can find the best seats for your troop,” he tells them before heading back to his car. Either he isn’t my boss, he doesn’t know it’s me on the bench, or he just doesn’t care because he doesn’t come over and offer me a card.
The old couple that walked behind the statues comes back from their walk. The man keeps walking toward the car. His wife pauses to take a picture of Paul before going to join her husband.
Between people running or biking by, and the kids playing tag, I watch the dark clouds coming in from the west. Even though the forecast said it isn’t going to rain, those clouds say otherwise. The wind is also picking up the longer I people-watch.
One of the moms calls the game of tag to stop so a group picture can be taken. As the moms and girls are directed by the amateur-professional photographer, I hear the words, “Girl Scouts.” That makes more sense than a random gathering of moms and daughters. I groan a little inside since I worked with a large group of Girl Scouts over the summer. I hope the girls that are posing for the picture are better behaved than the ones I worked with. A reasonable wish from a former Scout, yes? After the picture is taken, the group leaves.
Paul and Babe stand alone until two new moms and three kids show up. They, too, pause for a picture. One of the boys has a small, blue dart gun that keeps falling out of his pocket. As the others are walking away, he takes aim and shoots Paul. Yep, a kid shoots Paul frickin’ Bunyan with a toy dart gun. I chuckle as I make this note, but the mom isn’t finding it as funny as I am.
“What do you think you’re doing shooting Paul Bunyan? What did he ever do to you?” she says, pocketing the toy.
“He looked at me funny,” is the kid’s reply. His mom marches him towards the docks (which have been removed for the winter.)
A shirtless runner passes by on his way to the bridge. I am surprised how fast he runs for how short his pidgin-toed stride is.
Four skate boarders wait at the stop lights. Waiting for the light, one of them biffs a trick.
The boy who shot Paul is back from his walk with his family. He counts the orange bicycles with a girl I think is his sister. They play bongos on the seats as they go by. Their mom swings her arm at them. I guess she’s telling them to knock it off.
I wonder what makes the tail lights in those orange bikes light up. Are they powered as the person peddles?
6:13, 58 degrees with winds from the west at 18 miles per hour, partly cloudy skies.
The wind makes the three flag poles sing.
A helicopter whumps overhead. From the direction it is headed, I wonder if someone is being air-lifted to or from the hospital. Bemidji doesn’t have a military base where one could land a bird like that.
From across the street, two older, office-lady types pick their way to their cars in the parking lot. One goes right to her car. Her walking partner comes up to the curb and snaps a picture on her phone.
It is getting cold enough that I wish I brought a pair of little mittens, or a sweatshirt with longer sleeves. As I am debating whether to call it an early night, a couple with a young girl come to Paul and Babe. Mom stands back as the little girl runs under Babe for her dad to take a picture. I find it odd how they are dressed. Mom is wearing a sweatshirt jacket, looking cold. Dad is in a green T-shirt and shorts, while the girl has a gray, long-sleeved shirt with a pink heart on the front.
When the family leaves, I leave. I pack up my bag with my wind-beaten notebook and go to unlock my bike. Streetlights are starting to turn on. Before peddling back to the campus to get my car and drive home, I find myself wondering what Paul and Babe would say about the people who visit them.
“That girl who sat on that bench for the past hour. Wasn’t she the one who climbed up your leg and stuck her arm through your hand so it’d look like you her holding her?”
Paul pauses to think and then says, “Babe, do you know how many college students have tried that?”
“Just saying. She looked familiar,” Babe retorts. “Looks like it’s going to rain.”
Ashley Juenemann is from Baxter, Minnesota. She uses life events to create her work. She plans to continue writing after graduating from BSU with a BFA in professional and creative writing and a minor in electronic writing