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From nowhere...nearing somewhere

If you don't know Harlan Wien, he's the guy with the big "Jesus Indivisible" sign across the street from all the grave markers with Polish names in the St. Sanislaus cemetery.

If you still don't know Harlan, take a right at the big Jesus sign and head to the northwest shore of Big Pine Lake. Harlan's lake place is the one with the quaint little chapel that sits smack dab in the middle of his yard.

But really, if you want to get to know Harlan, you can get ahold of a copy of his book.

For a guy who considers himself a self-taught philosopher, the contemplative title is fittingly reflective of its author: "From Nowhere I Come, Passing Through Life, To Somewhere I Am Going."

The story spans more than eight decades, from his Depression-era youth in Colfax, North Dakota; to an anti-aircraft unit in Gen. George Pattan's 80th Infantry; and finally to the East Otter Tail Lake Country.

Some know Harlan as a photographer; some know him as an inventor. Still today, Harlan politely excuses himself to take a phone call from an East Coast patent office working on Harlan's "Incredible Tree Transplanter."

"I hope one of these days that the right people will see it and it will take off," he writes. "I still believe that there is no other small transplanter that can move small trees any faster or cheaper."

Others know Harlan as an arts-craft creator and tinkerer, in his shop overlooking Big Pine--which, of course, he built himself. He says he has 20 patents.

Anybody who does know Harlan knows this for certain: He is a man of God. And if you don't know him, this you will quickly know.

"I don't do anything without checking with the Lord," he said, during a visit in his Big Pine Lake home.

A Bible, next to his easy chair, is overflowing with bookmarks, slips of paper and sticky notes. It looks like a college kid's textbook after a sleepless night of cramming for a test. Bible verses and passages are marked and noted on almost every page.

Nearby is his collection of thousands of "Daily Bread" booklets, those little inspirational periodicals available by subscription. Harlan has saved nearly every one of them over the span of several decades.

Faith has always been his source of strength, particularly during his march across Europe and subsequent occupation of Germay. He shares dramatic stories of combat situations, including an unfortunate experience when dodging enemy fire; he crawled into a foxhole--that turned out to be a latrine.

"I did manage to get me a clean change of clothes," writes Harlan. "If this sounds like a fairy tale, it isn't, because you don't make up a stupid story like this."

On the wall of his home hangs a portrait of his lifelong love Lia, a German hair stylist who learned to speak English by reading the newspaper funny pages and comic books.

"I ended up marrying one of my enemies. It says in the Good Book to 'love thy enemy,'" writes Harlan in his autobiography. They met in Munich in 1945, married and had five children--including two sets of twins.

Sadly, Lia died young, at age 40.

As a widower, the Harlan Wien story soon led to the Perham area, and his home for the past 43 years on Big Pine Lake. Fishing, along with his experiences renovating Grand View Heights Resort, are among the book's local stories.

Those who don't know Harlan, will come to know him as a man of a multitude of dimensions: Salesman, entrepreneur, photographer, philosopher, poet, writer, veteran, husband, and father. It's all contained in his hardcover, 65-page book, which is well-illustrated with a variety of color and black and white photos.

Fewer may know Harlan Wien as a singer and musician. In the quiet of his home recently, the old soldier began singing a melody.

Hunched over, with a crooked back, the fellow is but a physical remnant of the high school basketball letterman from a forgotten North Dakota prairie town; hardly imaginable as the "190 pounds of muscles" who fought in World War II.

In his cluttered, dimly lit living room, his eyes twinkle after singing a verse of a strikingly bittersweet and fitting song.

For an uncommon man in the twilight of his years, the song's lyrics are something of a postlude. Harlan of God ...completing a tiring journey from nowhere to someplace he surely knows..."I Saw a Rainbow at Midnight."