I have a black-and-white photograph of my infant self with my maternal great-grandmother, grandfather, and mother. Looking at the four generations, I have always thought of the scene as most momentous for Great-Grandma. If you count her parents and grandparents, her life spanned six generations. Survival is the natural inclination of living things. Looking back over the years is the propensity of humans.
All year we've been celebrating the long life of this magazine, shining a spotlight on the past. This last issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer's 75th year highlights a retro cartoon collection and two readers' reminiscences. You'll learn about the world's oldest black bear, the nation's oldest public wildflower garden, and an ancient way of cooking. This Sense of Place issue invites you to also contemplate native landscapes—through an ecologist's tour of the blufflands, a harvester's time on wild rice waters, and a child's-eye view of a patch of Big Woods surviving in the suburbs.
Stories can connect us across time and bring home our relationships to place. In September I received a vivid demonstration of this. Two of my maternal cousins organized a weekend family heritage tour in west-central Minnesota. Our base camp was the big back yard of cousin Kim and her husband, Myron. There we cousins bunked in a semicircle of ice-fishing houses and 1950s-vintage campers. We set up 15 camp chairs around the fire ring and started telling family tales as the sun went down. Saturday morning at 9, Kim and her sister Pam corralled us into a motor home. With Myron at the wheel, we took off to rediscover remnants of our past.
To orient us, Pam read from a tour script written by her mother, our aunt Ramona. At each stop, Pam read another family story, often funny and tender, sometimes sad. First stop: the Brooten bakery, where our grandmother worked for decades—waiting on customers, kneading bread, frying doughnuts, sweeping flour-dusted floors. The man at the counter looked stunned when a dozen women piled out of the RV and lined up to buy old-fashioned doughnuts. My sister told a local customer that we were Eleanor Kjeldahl's grandchildren. With tears in her eyes, the woman said, "Oh, Eleanor … she was such a hard worker."
From there, we rolled on, past Sedan Brook Prairie Scientific and Natural Area—which preserves a rare piece of native prairie amid farmland—to Big Grove Lutheran Church and cemetery. Next, we headed to Grove Lake, a family fishing favorite. Along the way, we paused by a stretch of flat, marshy land, but we saw no trace of the farmstead where Grandma and her brothers grew up.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in Terrace near the Chippewa River dam and millpond, where my family sometimes fished. Dad once jumped into the pond to fish out my little sister, who had cast her line so enthusiastically that she fell in. Now a historic district, Terrace Mill retains evidence of long-ago visitors and inhabitants: Dakota and Ojibwe people and Scandinavian settlers.
On the Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway, watching hawks cruise over rolling glacial hills, cousins commented on the beauty of the land and sky. At the public access on Lake Linka, where we swam as kids, we took off our shoes and socks, rolled up pants legs, and waded into the clear, shallow water with the minnows and snails.
At each site visited, we wished we could linger a while longer, soaking up a sense of that place. But every story must end. Here's how Aunt Ramona wrapped up her recollections for us: "So remember … everyone has a story. Go out and tell yours."
As we saw on our tour, and as you'll find in this issue, every landscape also has a story to impart. Like ancestors, our natural heritage has lessons for us if we listen.
Kathleen Weflen, editor