Roam rhymes with home

This path was made for walking.
Near the 1850s Point Douglas-Superior Military Road, Wild River State Park

There is a concept that I’ve struggled to state clearly in the past about home, but I have come to this: It is home because I love it; I love it because it is home.

The author and theologian Tony Jones lives in Edina, Minnesota, two blocks from his childhood home. He has always lived within five miles of it. In a recent blog post titled “Why I’m Staying Put,” he offers a defense of the well-rooted. (And yes, we have a tendency to be defensive.)

Why have I stayed put?  There are several reasons:

First, I like it here.  Minnesota is a beautiful, fantastic, seasoned place, filled with genuinely good people.  I like the culture, and I know it.  And the Twin Cities makes just about every list for best places to live, bicycle, run, etc.

Second, the land.  My family owns some woodland about 120 miles north of my house.  I want to spend the rest of my life within a couple hours of that, my spiritual home.

Third, influence.  Because I know this place and I know these people, I’ve been invited to serve on some youth advocacy committees, I was a volunteer police chaplain for ten years, and I hope to run for public office (probably school board) some day.  Of course, none of this is only available to someone who stays put, but it seems a lot more natural to me since I’ve been rooted here.

It should be said that the fourth reason is his divorce and the subsequent shared custody, but it’s a long story and, fortunately for me, I don’t have that aspect to relate to. Those first three are compelling, though. I would add that, in addition to the influence aspect of knowing the place and its people, there is also simply the joy of the relationships one can build with family and oldest friends.

This is not to say that I don’t admire people who move away. I love to travel, and almost anywhere I go I enjoy thinking about what it would be like to live there, maybe just for a while. Sometimes I’m envious of the nomadic for choosing the place where they want to live the most, and living there. To me, it feels like the place chose me.

The Hjelmar Road

Over at Minnesota Trails magazine, editor Dave Simpkins writes about walking an old farm road that runs through the property in western Minnesota where he grew up and where he still has a cabin today.*

I put on an old pair of waterproof hiking boots, a war-torn rain jacket, and a big ugly hat and I headed out on the Hjelmar Road.The Hjelmar Road leads to the Hjelmar land, that old Hjelmar Huff, a Norwegian, homesteaded in 1884. My grandfather, a Norwegian married farmer, bought the little six-acre patch of land from his son August in 1922.

I’ve hiked, skied, Jeeped, cut wood and hauled hay on that old road most of my life. I shocked wheat and oats in the Hjelmar Land, camped in the summer and dug a snow cave in the winter. I shot my first deer here and picked blackberries by the quart.

The whole thing is worth a read: Roaming through our legacy | Minnesota Trails.

Dave goes on to say that every child, every person, deserves to have such a place, and to experience all their lives the mystery of what that attachment means. I agree, but I also agree with the second part of what he gets at: that not every kid can have a 300 acre family farm to grow up on and grow old on, but we can all have attachments to nature through public lands and waters.

A great-great-…-great-grandfather of mine rode a boat over from near Trier, Germany in 1851. I visited the village when I was traveling in Europe in 2003. The thing I remember the most was the bus ride to it; how the rolling farmland looked so much like the Wisconsin where he would ultimately settle. Even he, who was willing to leave everything he knew behind, must have found comfort in the landscape.

* Disclosure: I am currently doing some writing, Web and social media work for Minnesota Trails magazine.

Trip Reports

Morel hunting

A delicious foraging find.I spent much of Sunday afternoon and evening traipsing through various woods in the St. Croix River valley, alternating between scanning the forest for standing dead elm trees and studying the detritus of the forest floor. My reward was a handful of morel mushrooms, and several photos which fail to do justice to what a beautiful, peaceful Sunday it was.

The few mushrooms we found were the leftovers at a spot that had already been visted–and harvested–by another hunter. Not a surprise, as it’s a popular spot for such foraging. Whoever it was got quite a haul; there were lots of big broken-off stems that we could only admire enviously.

After this first fungus foray, I see there are a few strategies for successful mushroom hunting:

  1. Get to a well-known spot before anybody else
  2. Discover an unknown spot and keep it secret
  3. Make friends with a landowner that has a good mushroom spot–share your bounty

I also came to understand just how finicky these mushrooms are. They like to grow at the base of dead elm trees, but the trees shouldn’t have been dead too long. They like a little bit of sun but not too much. The soil can’t be rocky. It should be moist but not wet. And so on. All the conditions coming together is a rare thing and I get why people post boastful photos of their bounties when they hit the bonanza.

After  collecting what we could at the well-known spot, we pursued strategy #2. We walked about four-miles along some railroad tracks, investigating every dead elm we saw, and a lot of other shroomy-looking spots. Our biggest obstacles seemed to be that the railroad embankments were too steep and thus too well-drained, or the plentiful springs coming out of the limestone bluffs made for vast boggy areas that were also unsuitable.


Dragonflies and amphibians

It rained this afternoon and evening. Of course it started about halfway through the Twins’ second-ever baseball game in the new–roofless–Target Field. The game went on, and the Twins lost to the Red Sox.

More than any previous showers yet this spring, this rain brought the green. The trees had all been mostly budded out in the past couple days, and this rain made everything explode. It smelled like life as I drove home from work; I put the window all the way down and almost found myself sticking my head out a little bit to get my nose in the breeze.

It hasn’t rained for several hours but it is still damp out, a humidity seeming to have remained. Katie said she saw a dragonfly when she took Lola for a walk earlier.

When I took the dog out just now, there was a big frog (or toad? anybody? class?) sitting on our front steps. It was bigger and prettier than any I’ve seen around here in a while. He was on the first step and looking up at the next two toward the door. Not sure where he thought he was going. I got Katie and she helped me take some photos.