When you turn to the table of contents in this issue, what will catch your eye? What will you choose to read and why? That's what this magazine's editorial team tries to guess when we sit down to plan stories. In other words, we wonder what will spark your curiosity.
"Curiosity is the great quality that binds writers to readers," says James B. Stewart in his book Follow the Story. "Curiosity sends writers on their quests, and curiosity is what makes readers read the stories that result."
Readers sometimes initiate quests by sending questions to Natural Curiosities. Then we typically find a DNR expert who can pull the answer out of the expert's hat. Not surprisingly, many readers say Natural Curiosities is their favorite read.
Every feature story asks a question—explicit or implied—to entice readers to follow. A perplexing problem without easy answers can compel us to read. Such is the case with this issue's lead story, "A Coming Crisis for Our Bats." Will white-nose syndrome, a devastating wildlife disease, reach Minnesota and cause bat populations to crash? Journalist John Myers follows DNR scientists into the bat hibernaculum at Soudan Underground Mine State Park to investigate. DNR photographer Deb Rose goes too, documenting the off-limits bat cave for readers to see.
A conversation can contain the seed for a story. Talking with Gary Hoeft, assistant manager of Tettegouche State Park, led Gustave Axelson to wonder about the previous life of the park's somewhat remote lodge and cabins. Hoeft said that a mining baron had once owned this estate on Mic Mac Lake, and his former cook and caretaker still lives nearby. What kind of rustic luxury did the baron enjoy in the backwoods? What stories could the caretaker tell? To better imagine that bygone era, Axelson stayed two nights at Mic Mac camp and interviewed Maria Ostman. The result is "Backwoods Manor." Photographs by Judy Olausen enhance this portrait of people and place.
The more relevant a question is to a reader, the more riveting the story is likely to be. If you care about fish and fishing as keenly as Michael Kallok does, you'll certainly want to read "Tangling With Longnose Gar." What would it be like to tangle with an armored survivor of asteroids and ice ages? Sheer curiosity should lure anyone to follow Kallok's quest into the backwaters of the Mississippi to catch a longnose gar. Tom Thulen's photographs capture the drama.
Writer Joan Ellison extends another kind of invitation to readers: Go outside and "Prospect for Color" to create natural dyes. How can you find native plant materials and transform their colors into dyes? Ellison—fiber artist, shepherdess, and chemist—writes from her own wealth of experience. Anticipating readers' questions, she offers clear instruction and encouragement to experiment.
Another ingredient that helps make a story germane to readers is a sense of place. Wondering about whip-poor-wills, writer Tom Carpenter sets the scene for "Night Music." The story begins on his grandmother's screened porch, which backs up against the whip-poor-will's woodland habitat. As he listens for the evening songster's refrain, so do we readers.
Whether a setting is next door or in the wilderness, whether the sights and sounds are familiar or strange, MCV stories highlight the natural gems of Minnesota. Firsthand accounts, with photographs shot on location, invite you to come along and enjoy a reading experience you're not likely to find anywhere else.
Our reporting from the field requires time and money, and readers like you provide the vital financial support that makes these stories possible. Your contributions also enable us to send Minnesota's best-read conservation magazine to 403 public libraries, 5,026 teachers and school libraries, and more than 145,000 households.
Thank you to each of the 20,397 readers and their families who have already contributed in 2011. Your contributions sponsor the stories that connect you to the great outdoors.
Kathleen Weflen, editor