Sunday, April 27, 2014

MINNESOTA EXOTICA – Wonders Close to Home

Minnesota exotica. If that strikes you as an oxymoron, you probably live here, and you're not alone. A culture of self-effacing modesty and moderation in all things—a legacy, I suppose, of our German-Lutheran heritage—tends to keep our enthusiasm about even the most spectacular experiences bottled up inside.

Even transplants to Minnesota, largely free of such constraints, hesitate to rave about the amazing natural assets they find here because no one else in the country would believe that a place they see as somewhere between wild west and arctic tundra could possibly offer anything more exotic than the characters in Fargo.

Their loss.

I must admit, with my own German-American heritage, to being afflicted with a bit of that uniquely Minnesotan modesty. But another factor in my not extolling the wonders of my own state is that universal human fault of failing to appreciate those things most familiar to us. This is one reason, I suppose, why I crave adventures in other countries, especially those where animals, plants and landscapes are very different from those I've come to take for granted here at home.

So I realized it might help me, and those of you who may also have grown apathetic to all the beauty you live with every day, to try seeing it as if it were for the first time. It helps if I imagine some of my friends from around the world coming here, and what I would want to show them. For, just as I have stood wonder-struck before the natural “exotica” of their Baja California, their Kenya, their Veracruz, Andalucía or Costa Rica, I know they would see my world in the same way I see theirs.

If you make room for wonder in your heart, you may find yourself awestruck by a speck of dust.

In three and a half years writing this blog, and another six or seven writing of my experiences with small wonders (work I'd later distill for my first book, Under the Wild Ginger – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder, I've learned a few things about how people see—or don't see—the world around them.

One of those lessons is that wonder is as much a place in the heart and spirit as it is any specific object or event. You don't have to go to some faraway place to find it. It starts within you, right where you are. And if you make room for it among the clutter you may find yourself awestruck by a speck of dust.

Believe that all of Creation, far and near, beyond you and within you, is a lovingly beautiful place.

So keep your eyes—and your spirit—open. Indulge the curiosity of a five-year-old that still resides in you. Try to see even the simplest and most familiar of Nature's gifts as if you were seeing them for the first time. And, above all, believe that all of Creation, far and near, beyond you and within you, is a lovingly beautiful place. Expect wonder.

What are some of the workaday wonders you catch yourself taking for granted? Here are some from my everyday world here in Minnesota, USA.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Long-ear sunfish - PHOTO: Brandon Brown
Sugar maples ablaze – Autumn in Minneapolis
Snow on crab apple tree
Moose – Superior National Forest
Split Rock Lighthouse, Lake Superior - PHOTO: Brynn
Agate – PHOTO: Lech Darski
State flower – pink and white lady slipper
Birch trees
Painted bunting – PHOTO: Doug Janson
Surfing Lake Superior


Anonymous said...

When I think of Minnesota, i think of all the remote lakes you all have and the wilderness that springs into one's eyes upon its very gaze. I have never been but i would have to say that at least once a year... it comes to mind that i should visit... and perhaps that time is coming soon....
Stacey and I are talking about hiking some or all of the North Country Trail starting next year... maybe all at once or in sections.. to see the splendor of the great lakes and the midwest.

jean said...

Minnesota sounds so lovely! Thanks for sharing the photos, too.
I love the land where I live in central Virginia. Each time I go out for a walk, I am struck by the beauty and variety of our trees! This spring was spectacular with redbuds and dogwoods and especially the flowering crabapples everywhere in town! It was a cool spring so everything seems to be lasting a really long time. I love my town-----what grieves me so badly is when they cut down all the trees and put up yet another shopping center (who DOES all of that shopping anyway??) and a boring subdivision. But I try as hard as I can to enjoy what remains :)

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Bern -- As you can see, the first of my images is of the Boundary Waters Wilderness - thousands of lakes and small rivers, all interconnected by portage trails. Though you guys are inveterate hikers, I know you'd enjoy the water/land interplay.
The NCT sounds like a fabulous undertaking. Or, if you want to do something much shorter, but pretty wonderful, the Superior Hiking Trail -- along the north shore of Lake Superior -- is breathtaking.
And when you guys come, let's make a point to meet!

Jeffrey Willius said...

THanks for the comment, Jean. I share your disappointment with development that too often sees Nature as an impediment to be dispensed with rather than an asset to be honored and incorporated into the design.
I imagine central Virginia to be perfectly lovely, and I'm glad to hear you can still see all that wonder as if for the first time!

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