BY ELAINE KLAASSEN
The book of John Karrigan’s Powderhorn Birdwatch columns is finally in print. Those who never read Birdwatch in the newspaper and fans alike can now read John’s original take on life in its many forms while enjoying an enchanting visual book.
John Karrigan lived on 15th Avenue and made his way almost daily to Powderhorn Park where he observed the activity of avian creatures along with other living beings. He transformed his uniquely Karriganesque observations into monthly columns for two newspapers, first The Powderhorn Paper, from 1992 to 1996, and then Southside Pride, from 2000 to 2018.
The columns ended abruptly when melanoma, a type of skin cancer, overpowered him. His death, on Jan. 11, 2019, left a huge hole in the community, as well as in the character of Southside Pride, where his column provided the ongoing reassurance that no matter how dire the machinations of the human world, the birds were still singing.
When I was proofreading and copy editing at Southside Pride, I often consulted with John’s partner, Bonnie Rae, about commas, compound words and sometimes too many “buts,” as she was the person typing and submitting John’s columns to the newspaper. By the time of John’s memorial service, Bonnie had already decided she wanted to make a book of John’s columns. She asked if I would help and she also enlisted her friend Shari Albers, painter, graphic designer and longtime Powderhorn activist. I had never met Shari but was captivated immediately with her competence and inspired outlook.
We three became a team with the goal of finishing the project by 2020. Then 2020 arrived. Bonnie suffered irreversible health issues and had to drop out. Shari suffered a personal family tragedy. COVID-19 showed up. George Floyd was murdered. Lake Street burned. Shari, who lives on the east edge of Powderhorn Park, saw the park fill up with unhoused people longing for refuge, some of whom were people involved in drug addiction and alcoholism. That whole year was very difficult. Over in Longfellow, I hid in my house where I wrote some music and a book about my life.
By 2021 the team for John’s book had clearly become Shari and me. Since we had spent months and months working on it, we felt we had to continue – photos from talented neighborhood photographers had already been placed and Shari had made charming drawings. Also, we both had a vision of how beautiful it could be. It had become a labor of love.
The hardest task was selecting which columns to use and which ones to omit, because the book would have been a foot thick if we’d used them all. We also considered condensing each column, but aesthetically that absolutely did not work. Karrigan had a very distinct voice, word usage, sentence construction, humor and way of using details, which meant each column was an entity.
Next, we were slowed down over a disagreement and miscommunication about how much we wanted to change John’s original words and his distinct voice. That snafu added a few months to the process and had the potential to become “too many cooks spoil the broth,” but I think we averted that outcome.
In spite of everything, Shari and I again decided to finish because it was something we had started and felt was really worthwhile. The best thing about all that extra work was that it led to some wonderful pizza and beer dinners – and an index.
When we thought the book was as perfect as it could be, Bonnie’s good friend and health administrator, Sandy, offered her services with marketing and promotion. But life’s ups and downs got in the way for Sandy too. More than a year passed. By that time, the project was starting to fade in the midst of Shari’s and my family weddings, family illnesses, new grandchildren, major travel adventures, Shari’s first solo art exhibit, and just life.
Thankfully, in June of 2023, things settled down and the book stirred from its slumber. Shari sent the document to the printer. The minute I knew the first proof was back, I ran over to look at it. Imagine! After such a long and winding road, it was finally done – except my last name was spelled incorrectly in one place, and I saw “denouement’ spelled without the middle “e.” How could that happen? Shari fixed everything and ordered another proof. There are probably many errors, but there will definitely be more things right than wrong.
Books will be $25 (cash or check, no cards) at birdmanof[email protected] or at the park on Sept. 16 from 2 to 5 p.m.