In his 1997 essay collection Landprints, the late scientific polymath George Seddon wrote that "'sense of place' has become a popular concept, heard at every turn, unanalysed, and this is, for me, a problem." Seddon, an Australian who studied geology at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s, spent a lifetime challenging readers to deepen their knowledge of their surroundings—to elevate "sense of place" from clicháed phraseology to a thoughtful, open-minded lens through which to view the world.
Minnesota Conservation Volunteer preaches a similar gospel year-round, but its mission comes into stark relief in the annual Sense of Place issue, which you happen to be reading right now. Seddon, I hope, would appreciate our studied analysis of some of Minnesota's most evocative settings. As the stories and artwork in the following pages show, "sense of place" is in the eye of the beholder. Yet viewed together, these personal reflections can strengthen our collective understanding of the state's outdoor spaces.
To bolster the good work found in this month's issue, I asked a few current and former DNR folks to name natural settings they feel are special or unique. Here's a particularly thoughtful response from Carrol Henderson, the legendary Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor who retired last month:
My favorite place is where I was first assigned as the DNR assistant wildlife refuge manager in 1974: the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Refuge. The expansive prairies and wetlands that have been restored are awesome to experience—spring bird migrations, summer wildflowers on the prairie, and impressive waterfowl migrations in the fall. The area provides special memories, like when my son, Craig, and I watched fox pups play by their den in the spring. There were exciting fall hunting trips in search of pheasants, ducks, geese, and deer. Even more significant is the sense of conservation history the Minnesota River Valley evokes. South of Appleton on the wildlife management area is a huge boulder—perhaps 5 feet high and over 15 feet long—that I discovered one spring day while watching golden plovers migrating overhead. One end of the boulder had been rubbed as smooth as a cemetery stone by thousands of bison over many hundreds of years.
Other responses touched on the seemingly magical characteristics of our wild places. Here's Keith Parker, Central Region director:
I enjoy the scenic vistas on Lake Pepin, on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the Mississippi River. The views when you drive the Great River Road are spectacular. I always feel like I've traveled to a faraway mystical land, and yet these views are right in the backyard of the Metro.
Kurt Mead, interpretive naturalist at Tettegouche State Park, is happiest hanging around bogs:
My favorite of these places is a small bog just outside of Finland, Minnesota. . . . I have never seen so many pitcher plants in one place. The rare subarctic darner dragonfly breeds there. My favorite edible mushrooms grow there.
Amy Westmark, an assistant area wildlife manager based in Bemidji, is drawn to the peace and quiet of old forests:
One of my favorite places in Minnesota is the Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area in the Chippewa National Forest. The old-growth pines in the SNA have never been logged, making it a rare feature on today's landscape. I enjoy walking among the towering pines, trying to imagine what they have lived through in their long lives.
I chuckled at Cheri Zeppelin's initial response: "This is actually a difficult assignment, to pick one place." But Zeppelin, regional information officer for the Northeast Region, was kind enough to play along:
I live southwest of Grand Rapids in an area locally known as the Tioga Hills. On a minerals map, it is the southern tip of the Mesabi iron formation, which runs beneath my house. We are fortunate to live next to a 54-acre parcel of School Trust Land next to Salter Pond. We pick wild rice on the Mississippi River, and we pick blueberries south of Bigfork on state land managed by Forestry. Our favorite location has to be our own 40-acre parcel of hunting property north of Cohasset.
In Landprints, George Seddon raises the question of whether the concept of "sense of place" is valid and relevant in the modern world. If Seddon were alive today, I'd respond to his query by sending him a copy of this month's issue.
Chris Clayton, editor in chief