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Commonplace Wonders

Sometime ago a newspaper columnist asked his readers what day they would relive if they could. Somewhat to his surprise, almost everyone responded with a wish for ordinary experiences -- such as having coffee and conversation, going for a walk, going fishing, watching birds, eating dinner with family and friends. When you think about it, such choices make a lot of sense -- that's life, made up of every day, sweetened by good company.

When we asked Conservation Volunteer readers to tell us how they got hooked on fishing (May-June 2005), more than 50 readers replied. They too showed a preference for commonplace experiences. Everyone recalled a fishing buddy. People wrote about rowboats, cane poles, and tin cans full of worms. Nobody mentioned a shiny boat with a powerful motor. Everybody got hooked on simple pleasures.

What's wonderful is often commonplace. And what's common can vanish. The stories in this issue encourage us to pay attention to some once-common creatures and landscapes. They take us around the state and offer a taste of the diversity of Minnesota.

Along the Gunflint Trail, where moose are a prime tourist attraction, Gustave Axelson reports on the baffling decline of the northeastern Minnesota moose herd. What you might find encouraging about this story is the dedication of the wildlife researchers and area wildlife managers. They have taken it upon themselves to improve habitat conditions for moose in a warming climate.

Climate change and land use are implicated in "Canaries of Deep Water," Darby Nelson's report on the dramatic decline of tullibee populations in north-central lakes. This story too shows reason for hope because the research not only identifies the problem but also points out what Minnesotans can do to improve water quality and thus help tullibee adapt as waters warm.

Other stories in this issue also convey hopeful signs. On a remote northern lake, anglers search for blue pike -- a pursuit based on slim odds and great interest in genetic diversity. In Itasca County a kayaker is paddling every lake and checking water clarity as a citizen scientist. In the state's southwestern corner, a hiker explores a patch of native prairie that serves as a model for the state park's restoration work.

Mary Hoff's "A Most Amazing River" opens with her childhood encounter with the Mississippi on a family road trip. Her fascination with the great river actually began in the classroom, but summer vacation made the real-life experience possible.

Do you remember when you first saw the Mississippi? Like many Minnesotans, my family traveled to Itasca State Park to see the headwaters. Because Dad had only one week of vacation each year, we did not always make a summer trip. The memories of our trips north sparkle like sunlight on the lake. We saw every scenic overlook on the North Shore, fished and swam at mom-and-pop resorts, stayed in a pop-up tent camper at Scenic State Park, and -- most extravagantly -- once took a floatplane ride over Lake Bemidji.

Of course, a person doesn't have to travel to get hooked on summer days in Minnesota. As far as I know, none of my grandparents ever had a vacation from work. Yet some of my fondest memories of summer include idle hours with them. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa Kjeldahl in town meant watching the home team play softball, going to the drive-in stand for a frosty-cold mug of root beer, and gathering with dozens of relatives for a picnic in the park. Staying with Grandma and Grandpa Weflen on their farm, we cousins played everywhere -- from hayloft to silo, from parked pickup to tractor, from woods to lilac bushes to fields. I could not have imagined such summers would ever end.

What are you doing this summer? What's your natural inclination, your hometown pleasure? What wild things are drawing your attention?

Here's wishing you plenty of free time -- hours to while away and to remember what life is all about.

Kathleen Weflen, editor
kathleen.weflen@state.mn.us

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