Friday, July 2, 2010

The Morning of My Soul

To understand my anxiousness, you must appreciate this place where I live!
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."

I don't know whether people can make that into a picture in their minds. I hope they can, because I go on from there to describe to them the great difference between the two parts of the state separated by that line. It is like trying to portray the indescribable. It is something that needs to be experienced in order to sense its beauty and the soul of the matter.

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.

In June, in our local paper, Jim Spencer and Tom Meersman wrote a remarkable series that they called "Losing our Lakes." They pointed to the "man-made" pollution problems that threaten the jewels of our state's crown.

Shockingly, the authors of "Losing our Lakes" pointed out that approximately 86 percent of the pollution attacking our lakes is caused by agriculture. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy points the finger at agricultural feedlots and farm field run-off.

Through our property, just down the hill, to the right of where I now sit, typing this blog, a lovely little creek humorously meanders this way and that. Pioneer Creek sort of separates this area of our land where we live from the farm property south and west of here. A small walking bridge crosses the creek just down the hill behind our house and gives us walking access to our farm. The creek empties into Ox Yoke Lake, which runs along the south border of our property. To the north of us, about 6 miles away, the creek's source is Lake Independence. Both of these two lakes have very poor environmental ratings and both gather run-off from a number of farms near their shorelines. This creek, and another, wind their way through numerous farms whose livestock and crop fields run right up to their edge. Our creek also passes two nearby golf courses and runs directly through one of them. From them and the farms, the waterways gather manure and chemicals that run from the land.

In some places, our sheep graze right up to the edge of the creek and not too far from the shoreline of the lake to our south. Naturally, we need to wonder if we are part of the problem -- we and hundreds and hundreds of other farmers.

Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota, thinks what we need is some kind of clear framework for the agricultural community to follow.

"Most want to do the right thing," Ms. Swackhamer says, "but they're businessmen and they're going to do the thing to make a profit."

The beautiful lakes throughout the state have been a big attraction for home owners. So many people dream of building along lake shores. The problem this creates is obvious. Runoff from lawns and septic systems is disastrous for the lakes. Our state's Environmental Polution Control Agency has found that 39 percent of septic systems in lake shore residential properties are sub-standard.

Local governments found the development of these shorelines very attractive in terms of bringing in more tax revenues. In fact, the cost of repairing our lakes because of all these homes will be astronomical.

Ten percent of Minnesota's lakes are on the list of "impaired" bodies of water. And, 436 of our rivers are also on that list.

It's very possible that the Tea Party's candidate for Governor will win the election in November. He pledged no new spending. He also doesn't believe in environmentalists and thinks they are dooms-dayers.

Now, when the very soul of our state is in danger, it is time for emergency action that will be expensive. It is not a time for saying "no." We'll need great leadership in the next several decades. We can't afford a Governor who doesn't care and who is incapable of understanding.

I love this state. From it we've carved out a beautiful home and, indeed, we are willing to do the right thing to save our state's water resources. What we need is clear and creative leadership to show us the way.

This fall's election will be more vital than any of us is willing to believe. We've got to understand this!

The view out over our yard from the morning deck just outside my library!

Our privacy, and the peacefulness and quiet it brings, is important to us.

The land, if cared for tenderly, produces abundantly for us.


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