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Image of Loma Linda.

In Search of Health

Every other month, I sit at my dining room table in St. Paul to write this column. Today I'm at a small kitchen table in Loma Linda, a city 60 miles east of Los Angeles in southern California. I'm here with my husband, who is receiving cancer treatment with hope for a long and healthy life. Interestingly, this community of 22,000 people has the longest life expectancy of any place in the nation.

For his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer, Minnesota author Dan Buettner traveled to Loma Linda and four other regions with exceptionally robust populations. To discover lifestyle patterns, he interviewed centenarians and other locals. Here he found most people follow a plant-based diet, exercise regularly, volunteer, and religiously set aside one full day a week for rest and time with family, friends, and nature.

Loma Linda University Medical Center promotes a similar lifestyle. Its practice of treating the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—works as both preventive and restorative medicine. Prevention and restoration are themes running through this issue.

"Wild Rice Under the Microscope" reports on a research project that investigates the impact of sulfate in waters where wild rice grows. The aim is not to find a cure for what is causing a decline in Minnesota's wild-rice stands, but rather to better understand what level of sulfates this native grass can tolerate and still thrive. The results will enable the Pollution Control Agency to refine, as necessary, the standard that guides the requirements imposed on sulfate-emitting industries to prevent degradation of wild-rice waters.

The federal Clean Water Act is a force behind the sulfate standards discussed in the wild rice story. For the past four decades, the law has exercised both preventive and restorative powers for the nation's waters.

"A Surprise in Mississippi Pool 2" notes that the river is cleaner since metro communities began to improve wastewater treatment and handling in the 1980s. This local action followed the federal mandate to regulate discharge of pollutants into surface waters. Better water quality has enabled biologists to successfully reintroduce native mussels to the Mississippi between St. Paul and Hastings. The surprise is that Higgins eye mussels are not just surviving but also reproducing.

Many lakes in the Twin Cities metro region also have greater clarity since the Clean Water Act began regulating standards for surface waters. Retired fisheries biologist Konrad Schmidt is trying to take advantage of the improved aquatic habitat. "For Love of Minnows" explains his mission to restore native minnow species to several lakes where they once lived. Re-establishing these tiny foragers will add a link to the food chain and make the fishery healthier. As Schmidt points out, the minnows could not get back to their native waters on their own because connections between lakes have been lost.

"Snake River Getaway" notes a DNR project to reconnect waterways to allow fish passage. Modification of a dam at the outlet of Cross Lake this past winter created gently sloping rapids for upstream migration and spawning of lake sturgeon. Such restoration projects typically take place without fanfare, partly because benefits are long term and perhaps won't become apparent in our lifetime.

On the other hand, escape from immediate danger can be dramatic and exhilarating. Famed conservationist John Muir wrote about his harrowing passage across a glacier with a dog named Stickeen. Muir made his way across a thin ice bridge over a "dismal, merciless abyss," then he urged the dog to follow. Finally, "after running back and forth in vain search for a way of escape … moaning and wailing as if in the bitterness of death," the dog crossed. "And now came a scene!" Muir wrote in his story "Stickeen." "Never before or since have I seen anything like so passionate a revulsion from the depths of despair to exultant, triumphant, uncontrollable joy. He flashed and darted hither and thither … swirling round and round in giddy loops and circles like a leaf in a whirlwind … all the time screeching and screaming and shouting as if saying, 'Saved! saved! saved!'"

Recovery from the brink deserves wholehearted celebration.

Kathleen Weflen, editor

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