Two years later, the staff of the Dordt College Diamond drove north to Luverne, Minnesota, to meet with Mr. Manfred. I was one of them. I remember the Sioux quartzite wall of the sprawling home he’d built into the edge of Blue Mound, and I’ll never forget the cupola up above, an eagle’s nest, 360 degrees of windows and book shelves, including the very definitive collection of his own. I remember him standing there, pointing south, then telling us that on a clear night he could see the radio tower of Dordt’s station. And I remember being comforted by that gesture—somehow we still mattered.
Frederick Manfred was so huge he made me feel diminutive. I remember his immense hands, long fingers permanently crooked from some accident. And I remember his passion, as everyone who ever met Frederick Manfred will. That sheer passion for life stormed over everything and everyone. My fellow staffers had to slug their way into a conversation that wasn’t dialogic at all, but a running monologue that never once grew wearying. The man was a presence. Even those who dislike his writing will say it: Fred Manfred wasn’t so much an artist as a force, like the wind, or the Plains themselves, the world from which he’d come, their emerald edge in Siouxland, where every season’s weather comes in spades.
When we left the place he called Roundwind, we descended the curving, steep road through swaying prairie grasses all around. I’d asked no questions while we were there, and I’m sure I said little on the way home. I’d met a man, a presence, who was unlike anyone I’d ever known.
That night I’d also begun to hear stories I’d hear time and time again through the years—how he had crawled for miles through the prairie so he could feel exactly what Hugh Glass had in the legend that became Lord Grizzly. I listened to him go on and on about running to high school every day—seven miles each way, Doon to Hull, to Western Academy. I heard Calvin College stories, how he’d left Siouxland for Michigan, packing the only two books he’d ever owned—the Bible and Shakespeare.
Even more, I began to understand things about writing, about the necessity of endless research into Native ceremonial pipes and dances and buffalo—and the sheer joy of learning. I looked through notebooks scribbled full of his long-lettered handwriting, interesting names and comic and frightful anecdotes he didn’t want to forget, things he’d use someday, he told us.
I left Manfred’s home in silence that night, having met a writer.