November–December 2023

From the Editor

What's in a Place?

These essays caused me to reflect on my own favorite corners of the outdoors.

Each year, I’m impressed with the insights our contributors bring to the annual Sense of Place issue. Often, these observations are born of repeated visits to specific spots around the state, as is the case with Hayley Orion’s ode to cranberry bogs and Julia Shiota’s meditation on Hyland Lake Park Reserve. I enjoyed Orion’s practical tips on berry harvesting (“Following a frost or two in November, lowbush cranberries are ripe for the picking”) and Shiota’s poetic take on how the world shrinks when temperatures drop: “While many might assume harsh winters push people apart by secluding us indoors, I have found that the snow and cold often push us closer together.”

Other stories in this issue turn an eye to wildlife. Anyone who’s received a surprise backyard visit from a hard-to-spot bird will get a kick out of Jonathan C. Slaght’s brief encounter with a LeConte’s sparrow—one of the smallest and most elusive New World sparrows. “They spend their days low to the ground under tall dense grasses foraging for insects, collecting seeds, and leading secretive lives,” writes Slaght of this winged phantom. 

These and other essays found herein caused me to reflect on my own favorite corners of the outdoors. Topping my list is the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a 52-mile expanse between Taylors Falls and the Mississippi River. This waterway has multiple identities. In Afton, where I grew up and first experienced the St. Croix, the river is wide and busy with boat traffic, though there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery. (The beach at Afton State Park has expansive views of the river valley.)

The stretch of the St. Croix from Taylors Falls to William O’Brien State Park feels wild by comparison. It’s my favorite part of the river, with towering green bluffs that form a dramatic natural corridor dotted with heron rookeries, gurgling cold springs, and picnic-friendly sandbars. I look forward to getting back there in the spring, but for now I plan to embrace winter and hopefully discover some new spots to inspire next year’s Sense of Place issue.

Happy reading!

Chris Clayton, editor in chief