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Retiring columnist opens new chapter

Rylander and her husband live ‘organic’ life near Grey Eagle.

While Edith Rylander has retired from writing columns for area newspapers, she is by no means closing her laptop and putting it on a shelf. The shelves in the earth sheltered home in Grey Eagle she shares with her husband  of more than 50 years are full; and she has more writing to do. When Edith began writing her column “Rural Routes” in 1980, she was worried about running out of ideas. “It hasn’t happened,” she said, looking back on three decades of writing about a back-to-nature sort of life underpinned with philosophical musings. She didn’t run out of ideas but tired of facing deadlines. Now, there won’t be pressures to write but she’s been doing it long enough that inspiration alone is enough motivation to sit down and let the words flow. “I have two or three books left in me,” she said, considering the new things she wants to write and some older pieces that haven’t been published. Though she may be best known locally for her newspaper columns, she has a long history with poetry and will apply pen to paper coaxing rhythm and rhyme, free verse and colloquial language into poetic form. “I write anywhere there’s a flat surface,” she said, negating the need for a perfect atmosphere in which to write. Edith’s early life was spent in a gold-rush ghost town in western Nevada. At the peak of mining, the town had a population of 10,000 people but was down to a residual 200. Though the town sounds like one which must have been filled with characters, and probably was, many were her relatives. “We had a one-room school and a third of the kids were related to each other,” she said. When the mine shut down in the early 1940s, Edith was just seven, the family moved to California. “Men were going into the army; women were doing war work.” While her early years were filled with family and familiarity, in California Edith was exposed to people of all kinds from everywhere and was inspired by the contrasts she experienced. Her parents had great respect for literature. Edith wrote her first poem at the age of eight and by 13, she boldly declared she was going to be an “authoress.” Edith and John met in college and eventually moved to his home territory in Minnesota. Once again, like her early years in Nevada, Edith felt the closeness of roots and family ties. The Rylanders raised three children in a conventional home in the heyday of the back to nature movement of the 60s and 70s. As the last child left the nest, Edith and John made the decision to live their lives in ways that would leave as small a footprint as possible. In their book Journeying Earthward, a collaboration of essays published in 2002, Edith and John expressed their connections with the land and reasons for building their unique cordwood masonry earth sheltered home. John, a member of the English department at St. Cloud State, described a deer hunting experience that changed his perception of his relationship to the earth. Sitting on a log, listening to the birds, he suddenly experienced a “pulsating insistent awareness….I had to look down toward my feet. It came to me that they did not end where the soles of my boots touched the earth. “I knew instantly and surely that I had become part of the ridge, the log, the air. My feet had grown into the ground. They were sending down tentacles, roots, into the particles of dirt, into the very muck of the swampy earth. I was mesmerized, tingling with quiet joy and peace, at one with my immediate surrounding and the rest of creation. I was a part of, not apart from. The journey earthward was truly underway. I had been given a gift not asked for and totally unexpected. I am still grateful.” In her essay “Transitions,” Edith expressed the philosophy by which they lived. “We wanted to live in a way which allowed us to share work, between ourselves and with our children. We wanted our lives to be an organic whole, not to be cut up into boxes with labels like, ‘man’s work’ and ‘woman’s work,’ or ‘work’ and ‘leisure,’ or ‘worker’ and ‘intellectual.’ We did not want to live, and to model for our children, the standard ‘American Way of Life,’ with its abstraction, its exploitation, its specialization and its consumerism….We wanted to own our own lives, not rent or lease them. We wanted our lives to be ours, not roles we were playing at the bidding of advertisers.” To that end, the Rylanders produced their own food, shelter and warmth. They chose to eat food grown in ways that would not damage the soil and live in a home that required little in the way of dependence on fossil fuels or nuclear waste. Unlike those who live this way for a short time and then move on to consume like everyone else, John and Edith continue to embrace a life of their own design. They are witnesses to a way of life that is becoming attractive once again in the 21st century. “Getting back to the land comes and goes in waves,” said Edith. “When the economy hits the brakes, then people ask if there’s a better way to live.” As to their choice of lifestyle she said, “Some find it to their liking.” John and Edith will continue to live over the hill and around the bend on their 40 acres in a house “not designed for aging invalids.” But they’re not at that stage yet. Their children have grown and flown across the nation. Dan is a personal bankruptcy attorney in Tucson, Shireen is a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina and Eric is a marine diesel and generator technician working on yachts in Georgia. Eric is the writer of the next generation and applies his literary efforts to a blog called Jethro’s Garage. Edith is also thinking about blogging. She said she has kept up with technology “rather poorly,” but has a Facebook account and relies on her son-in-law for trouble shooting. She has published three books of poetry and a compilation of her Rural Routes columns, aptly titled Rural Routes. These books were published by North Star Press of St. Cloud and Red Dragonfly Press of Northfield. Journey Earthward was self-published by the Rylanders under the name Big Swan Press. They put it together with desk-top publishing and are happy to have control of the book’s destiny. All of their books are available at and other venues. Edith has come full circle, starting with poetry and returning to poetry. As a young writer working on poetry and fiction, she struggled to get her work out into the world. John, always  one to offer encouragement, suggested, “Why don’t you try something shorter, simpler, closer to home?” Sheri Breen, editor of the Long Prairie Leader at that time, was the first editor willing to give Edith’s columns a chance. And now, after 30 years as a columnist, Edith will again identify herself as she did at age eight: “I’m a poet.” Also by Edith: Dancing Back the Cranes (1993), Hive Dancer (2007), Dance with the Darker Sister (2010) The Rylanders speak about their life on the land and Edith is available for poetry readings and workshops. Contact them at

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