by Charlie Leck
To understand what I write here today, you must begin with some appreciation for how much I love this place where I live, starting with a small, concentric circle of a few hundred yards and, then, working out to encompass the entire state of Minnesota. Here, I sit at this keyboard with an extraordinary view of my surroundings in the deep woods. As the sun rises in the morning it throws spangles of light against the green leaves at the top of the trees. (I tried to capture something of this view in the photo above, taken from the window of my study.)
When visitors come here, to spend time with us, as was the case last week with a young man from New York, I often try to describe the context of this place where they are visiting.
"If you draw a line from this spot, up to the Northwest corner of the state, where the Northeast corner of North Dakota meets Minnesota and both states touch the Canadian border, you will separate the magnificent rolling plains of our state, to the Southwest, from the great, wooded lake country to the Northwest."
To the south of Minneapolis, all the way to Iowa and beyond, is some of the richest and most beautiful farming land in the world. That is also so to the southwest and west of us.
"Flatland," lots of people call it; but that is not so because the prairies of Minnesota have a remarkable rolling nature to them. When the grain is growing tall, and the wind is up, you get the perfect picture of "amber waves of grain." If you are quiet of soul and allow the image to paint itself upon your heart, you feel blessed and peaceful. The land rolls along westward, from village to village, until it reaches the Dakotas. Then it becomes the vast, magnificent "dakota flatlands" until it reaches the mysterious and awe inspiring Black Hills of South Dakota and the great Badlands of North Dakota.
However, to the Northeast of the line I have asked you to draw in your mind is the great and wondrous Soul of Minnesota -- its vast and spectacular lake country. It is here where hardly a road can proceed straight ahead because there are lakes and vast wetlands around which it must skirt. And you mustn't think of it as just bodies of water, for lake country is stunningly dense with magnificent forests of birch trees and millions and millions of evergreens, most times growing right down to the shores of the lakes.
And there are lakes and lakes by the thousands. "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" is not an exaggeration, but a failure, really, to account for the numbers of large bodies of water there really are. The number is closer to 17,000 -- so many that naming them becomes difficult and there are dozens of Long Lake across the state and many of them are called Mud Lake, or Sand Lake, or Clear Lake.
It is these lakes that make Minnesota what the great Sioux nation called "the land of sky blue waters" long before white men ventured into the dense, dense Big Woods to discover lake, after lake, after lake.
There is the big, big lake to the Northeast -- the one which Longfellow called Minnehaha -- the "laughing waters" -- and which we refer to as Lake Superior in these days. It is one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world and it may be the deepest fresh water body in existence.
Along the northern border is the brooding, huge Lake of the Woods, about which Tim O'Brien wrote in his masterpiece, The Things They Carried, and in his wonderful mystery, In the Lake of the Woods -- two books that are on my absolutely must-read list and which touch upon the subject of soulfulness that I am trying to describe here.
Here, near us, in the midst of the metropolitan region, is the body of water that locals simply call Thee Lake. It is the spectacular and meandering lake with hundreds of fingers and dozens and dozens of big bays that the Sioux, who considered it a sacred place, named Lake Minnetonka.
Minneapolis, City of Lakes, lies at the southern most edge of lake country. Within it boundaries there are 21 lakes and most of them have shorelines that have been protected and kept open to the public. There are sailing lakes, canoeing lakes, swimming lakes and fishing lakes. And there are lovely trails and walking paths, bikeways and picnic areas surrounding nearly every one of these city lakes. Several of them are connected by small canals and it is possible to pass from one lake to another, to another.
You cannot understand Minnesota unless you understand its water and the intense feeling its residents have about its lakes and great rivers (the Mississippi, that begins as a gurgle in northern Minnesota, and the big Minnesota River that comes out of the west and meets the Mississippi right here in the metropolitan area). And, on the northeastern boundary of our state with Wisconsin, is the precious Saint Croix River, perhaps, the most beautiful river in America.
And now, in these days and moments, our soul is both troubled and restless. All of this now -- all of this incredible, indescribable and near-sacred part of our being -- that which is our soul -- is threatened and in danger.
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