October 29, 2010

Thirty Before Thirty

I turned twenty-nine earlier this month. At risk of offending many of you, THAT SOUNDS OLD. I know, I know: there's lots of life ahead of me, but as I can't quite quiet the tick-tock-tick-tock thoughts, and as I'm one of those goal-oriented dreamers, I've constructed a list of (almost) thirty Minnesota/nature/writerly things I'd like to experience before the big 3-0.

Here are my ideas so far:
Climb on top of a hay bale and sing something
Make a pumpkin pie from scratch
Canoe and fish for sunnies on St. John's University's Lake Sagatagan
Canoe through Lake Shetek to Loon Island
Revisit the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area
Visit Minnehaha Falls
Visit the Root River Valley
Go strawberry and/or raspberry picking
Take a friend to the Carver Country Reserve
Discover a new park
Learn to name and identify at least five new plants
Learn to name and identify at least three new bird calls
Explore some new place along the North Shore
Go cross-country skiing
Make an impressive snowman
Go ice fishing
Jump into a cold lake early in the swimming season
Revisit Quarry Park
Revisit the St. Croix River National Scenic Waterway
Revisit Pipestone National Monument
Visit a Science and Natural Area
Finish writing a short story set in one of these places
Publish something in a Minnesota publication
Volunteer this summer at some outdoorsy locale
Read three books set in Minnesota
Read three books by Minnesota authors
Become less freaked out by water snakes

Thoughts? To finish the list, I need your suggestions, people! If I'm really in love with this state as much as I claim, what do I need to do/touch/see/hear/smell/ eat/appreciate? And please don't anyone mention lutefisk. 

October 26, 2010


This is a dicey night for breathing. Air moves. Rather, it rushes. Something cold and northerly pounds against my windowpanes like one-hundred shoulders—in flight or pursuit, I cannot tell which. Lightning flashes. Thunder booms. There is wind and rain and snapping tree branches, snapping trees, all the remaining leaves whirling up in a maddening gyre, spinning furiously to a music that hisses through what remains in the fields. I have my ear to the glass, my hand on the window latch. There are old superstitions about stolen breath, but I am curious, and too snug anyway.


This might be a bit of a tangent, but I've recently found myself taken in by Suzanne Collins' YA novel The Hunger Games. Perhaps this doesn't come as a shock. It's been on best-seller lists for years. It has adventure, dystopia, survival, love--all tried-and-true thematic elements that glue together a good read. But what it also has that many other books do not is a narrator who is connected to the land. 

Katniss Everdeen. She loves the woods and all things in them without ever saying so--without even thinking it (no fancy camera in her hand)--because trees and berries and topography are her way of life, like breathing. Aside from the whole "you-must-kill-other-kids" thing, and the game-makers who start forest fires, and the overall threat of starvation and imminent death, I almost envy Katniss her nights in trees. Going for walks in the day time is one thing. But to have one's limits truly tested. To lean so completely on the natural world for life. I imagine it feels heartening to find both the earth and your inner strength abundant.

Yes, as long as Katniss was out of the arena and I was not another tribute whom she was required to slay, I think we'd be good friends. We'd go on hikes, leap streams, learn the names and characteristics of all living things, and occasionally meet up with Bear Grylls when we wanted to get crazy. 

October 20, 2010


"In a world where change seems the only constant, where the past is increasingly suspect and the future ever more doubtful, it is exhilarating to be in touch with something that 'binds together all humanity--the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.'"
-- Paul Gruchow quoting Joseph Conrad
From Travels in Canoe Country

October 18, 2010

Minnesota Speaks

One of the things I've loved most about doing whatever it is that I'm doing with this blog is that it's focused my attention. Since I began this venture, I haven't gone one week without discovering another "I love Minnesota" book at the library or another great MN-based blog or one more important conservancy organization that's hard at work. I've talked a lot about walks lately, and it's been true my entire life that I'm often out in the woods by myself, gazing about me, feeling very much like I'm the only one who thinks these thoughts or is stirred just so. But I've quickly realized how ridiculous that thinking is. And now--even though I still enjoy my solitary walks--I'm aware that in spirit I'm never alone. 

Mmmm. That thought makes me feel all campfire-warm and warm-wind-rosy.

Here's a quick list of a few books and blogs that I've found worth checking out. Feel free to suggest more in the comments!
 Our Neck of the Woods  (I love DNR publications)
 Off the Beaten Path: Minnesota  (thanks, JoAnn!)
 Silence in the Snowy Fields by Robert Bly  (perfect for November)
 Ecobirder  (who knew there were so many serious birders in Minnesota?)
 Minnesota Pictures  (I'm such an amateur)
 Minnesota Reads  (because we do) 
And thanks to my new subscribers, whoever you are! I'm glad you're here.   :)

October 14, 2010

The Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters from Alex Horner on Vimeo.

This is a beautiful video made by Alex Horner. I found it via the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (another great organization I'll have to lend a full shout-out to soon). Thanks to all involved for sharing such inspiring work. I hope this carries you into a relaxing, rich weekend.

October 11, 2010

One Way To Stay Warm

In many ways, this has been a difficult fall for me. The health of ill family members have worsened. A cousin--a young, well-loved woman--died. Some stories that students trust me with are heartbreaking. Insecurity, in its strange high-schoolish form, keeps poking at my back. And people I love are moving away. There are so many forces pushing against each other inside of me that often when I return home from work, I feel the bruise of exhaustion in my organs. Especially my heart. It feels raw from beating.

But then I find myself on another walk, standing underneath a collection of leaves that are as red as any working muscle, and it's an improbably beautiful thing. Beautiful in its color, yes. In the way the light sweeps around it. But also in that it's this red right now. That I'm in the world on this exact axis. That I did not arrive one day earlier--because it would have looked some other way--or one day later--because perhaps tonight there will be wind or rain or the leaf just letting go. It's improbable that of all the leaves that are changing, I would be comforted by this one.
At times I find it frustrating that no matter how much I love Autumn, no matter how pathetically I might beg the leaves to linger, they won't wait. They don't pause out of sympathy. They don't even think of me (they're leaves). They just come and go, life's-a-cycle, la-la-la.

But it's important to recognize that I don't wait for them either. No matter how much I might want to in a particular moment--for the woods are peaceful and full of gentleness and such a safe place when I am feeling all this out--I always walk home. I move forward. However formidable winter might seem, this season teaches me to walk into it with the memory of light held close to my chest, for this is one way to stay warm.

October 8, 2010

The Nature Conservancy

A shout out:

If you've never heard of or checked out The Nature Conservancy, ladies and gentleman, now is the time. They're involved in important work all over the world, and if you love yourself some unspoiled places, it's likely that they've had a hand or at least a finger in either the preservation of that locale or the preservation of public opinion that such sanctuaries matter. In Minnesota alone, TNC has helped conserve more than 500,000 acres of wild habitat. That's no small field of grass. And the photography they post? Let's just say it's not ugly.

There are plenty of other strong organizations out there, too. Please leave a link in the comments if you think there's one in particular I need to know about!

October 4, 2010

Bird Song

This is one of the coolest interactive creations I've found on the web in a while, so kudos to the creator (and the DNR!). Make sure to check out the black-capped chickadee. He's my favorite.

October 1, 2010

Carver Park Reserve

My commute home from work usually takes about thirty minutes. On Wednesday, it took me three hours. And I mean that literally: the road took over. And then it was a paved path leading me. And then a gravel one. And then any number or variety of field. 

How I've never discovered the Carver Park Reserve until yesterday I have no idea, being that I've driven past signs on Highway 7 indicating its presence hundreds and hundreds of times. I am a curious person, prone to driving down unfamiliar roads, reading books in strange parks, putting myself in situations that at one point (probably still) would have made my father nervous, so I really should have sniffed this place out long ago. But the important thing is that I've found it now, and that I turned down County Road 11 again yesterday, and that I will continue to do so throughout this golden season and into the next because it's a place to get lost in on purpose hour after hour after hour. 

Carver Park Reserve is located twenty-five miles west of Minneapolis between Highways 7 and 5, and is part of the Three Rivers Park District.