An elderly woman named Doris was mistakenly calling Jessica Lind Peterson and leaving voicemail messages. She wanted Ted, or someone, to clean her apartment, Doris said, or she just wanted to say hi or “Merry Christmas.” She wanted someone to visit her.
All told, there were 20-30 misfired messages from Doris to an unknown Deb, sent during a six- to eight-month period. Lind Peterson, who talked to Doris at least once, saved them all.
Then the calls just stopped, the phone number didn’t connect, and Lind Peterson couldn’t figure out what happened to the woman.
“She really moved me,” Lind Peterson said in a recent phone interview from a green trailer in Canyon, Minnesota, where she and her family have lived for the past year. They will soon be moving to Duluth.
Doris is the subject of an essay in Lind Peterson’s debut collection, “Sound Like Trapped Thunder,” released in mid-March by Seneca Review Books. In “This is Doris Ronn,” the writer pokes at possibilities, a story for the mysterious stranger, and connects it to both her own beloved grandmother and a high-pitch emitting blue whale, or, “the Mariah Carey of whales.”
“I wonder how long she has been alone,” Lind Peterson writes of Doris.
From theater to the page
Lind Peterson is a Duluth native who graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth, where both she and her husband, Jason Peterson, were in the theater department. After college, they spent a few years in New York City before returning to Minnesota, where they started the Yellow Tree Theatre in a strip mall in Osseo, population 2,400.
“We want to run into you at the gas pump and help you shovel your driveway,” according to the story of the theater, as recorded on its website.
When the pandemic hit, the family moved to its northern Minnesota cabin and ultimately decided to leave the theater and settle there.
“It was a sabbatical for us, and we had time to consider the rest of our lives,” Lind Peterson said. “We decided it was a good time to continue northwoods adventure.”
She walks every day, she said, and goes cross-country and downhill skiing. They are currently living on a lake, and the driveway makes for a long walk to the bus stop for her sons. The cabin is small, she said, so they try to be out as much as possible.
Lind Peterson has been a playwright, penning romantic and holiday comedies — but she wanted to explore another avenue, she said. At Hamline University, she discovered her niche: lyrical essays.
“It’s just really an imaginative approach to nonfiction, which is what I love about it,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to play on the page. It’s very theatrical, too. My playwright self is very much in use. I’m thinking of my readers and my audience, touching base with them and the fourth wall. All of my selves are in the lyric essay.”
Lind Peterson won the 2020 Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize, selected by Jenny Boully, a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of multiple collections, including “Betwix-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life.” She called it “gorgeous, kaleidoscopic renderings of memory, being and place.”
“Sound Like Trapped Thunder” is a collection of seven personal essays tied to grander themes of nature, approached with a wide-open imagination and pinpoint details.
And it has a sense of what-if wondering that is darkly funny.
She writes about nature making its way into the house, dripping from the ceiling and nature making its way into a partner — like a male seahorse.
“Imagine he is pregnant and his smooth, flat stomach is swelling,” she writes.
In “That Far North,” she celebrates winter and being stuck face-down in a snow tunnel, moon boots in the air, feeling a “kind of secret hug.”
Most of the essays include an animal, and typically, the animal is massive.
“I stroked the fine velvet of his nose and wondered if my fist would fit into one of his gaping nostrils,” she writes of a friend’s horse that will eventually make a fast-paced beeline toward a tree.
There is also a bear, a whale.
“I didn’t know I was obsessed with big creatures until I put these essays together,” she said. “I think I’m obsessed with big things that make me feel small. The ocean, whales, bears and horses. I like to measure myself against the bigness.”
Title: "Sound Like Trapped Thunder"
Author: Jessica Lind Peterson
Publisher: Hobart & William Smith College Press / Seneca Review Books