November–December 2022

From the Editor

Holding Up a Mirror

The allure of Minnesota's natural wonders can be dramatic or more subdued.

Chris Clayton

The sublime falsetto of the common loon. Lake Superior under an electric-blue sky. A towering white pine, its antler-like boughs bending toward the sun. These natural wonders of Minnesota are easy to appreciate. Their allure is overt and dramatic, like an Adele song or a bite of chocolate cake. But elsewhere around the state, beauty hides in humbler, more challenging packages—an idea that appears in several essays in this year’s Sense of Place issue.

In “Back to the Point," author Craig Bihrle exults in the imperfect charms of Mud Lake—a stinky, mucky pothole that also happens to be an excellent hunting ground. The mud theme runs over in “The Big, Wide Red,” about a group of experienced paddlers who tackle a flooded stretch of the Red River. Though the canoers don’t exactly find transcendence on the water, they do learn to love the underappreciated Red. And for another meditation on the shaggier side of nature, read Will Nelson’s “Revelations in Chain Link,” in which the young writer finds meaning in a sapling growing through the holes of a fence.

But this wouldn’t be a proper Sense of Place edition without a little chocolate cake, so to speak. In the following pages, you’ll find loons, Lake Superior, pine trees, and other chart-topping hits of Minnesota’s outdoors. You’ll also meet two photographers who employ wildly different techniques, as well as an extraordinary guy named Alex who is improving his group home one native plant at a time.

One of the reasons we continue to publish the Sense of Place issue year after year is that we’re fascinated by the many ways in which Minnesota’s natural settings—from muddy waters to breathtaking vistas—hold a mirror up to our writers and photographers. The late nature writer Barry Lopez touched on this idea in his 1999 essay collection About This Life: “Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human.”

Chris Clayton, editor in chief