As a group, Minnesotans seem to be an active bunch – hiking, biking, roller blading, running. I’m sure some of it is that they like to feel fit, but I’m also convinced some is that they know that if they stop moving the mosquitoes will eat them alive! Even with bug spray, the little buggers think this photographer who stands still long enough for them to land is one big all-you-can-eat buffet!
This gentleman (who was moving much too fast for the skeeters) was one of 80 or so riders participating in a 3-day “Bike Minnesota Expedition” sponsored by Minnesota Parks & Trails. Each Labor Day weekend they ride around 60 miles per day in a different area of the state and this year it was the Little Falls area.
Little Falls most famous “favorite son” is Charles Lindberg. The Lindberg Historic Site is the home where he spent his boyhood summers, now open for tours and filled with the family’s possessions and memories.
Because it was “Living History Day”, costumed interpreters were on site to interact with visitors. Between tour groups, “Mrs. Lindberg” told me tales of the escapades of the daring young Charles as she prepared an apple pie for the oven. Charles Lindberg led a fascinating life and there is much to understand beyond his famous 1927 trans-Atlantic flight. The Museum next to the home has some wonderful old film footage and artifacts like the 1959 Volkswagen Beetle in which he slept many nights and traveled many thousands of miles.
About 25 miles south of Little Falls is the village of St. Stephen, the first Slovenian settlement in the U.S. The heart of the village is the beautiful Church of St. Stephen, built in 1903 by the ancestors of many of the 850 folks living here today. When I came through on the Sunday afternoon before Labor Day, the church grounds and basement were abuzz with preparations for the annual Parish Festival. Tents were going up, goodies were arriving for the bake sale and cake walk, and 80-bazillion chickens were being fried and at least that many potatoes being peeled. Still, they happily paused to share some of their history and show me their beautiful church. I promised to return the next day for Polka music, raffles, games and, of course, a fried chicken dinner! The parking lot overflowed onto the streets in every direction when I arrived. I bought raffle tickets for some beautiful handmade quilts and assorted other prizes, although I passed on the tickets for two live goats, fearing I might actually win. The air was filled with the oom-pah-pah of the Polka band set up in a semi-trailer with the side removed and an array of foods cooking. I went for the fried chicken dinner and it was fabulous!
I was much too full to sample the Bouja, a Slovenian stew of meat and vegetables, but was told it was delicious. Traditionally, Bouja was a harvest time meal made with rabbit or other wild game, but the Festival version is made with chicken and beef. At the Slovenian Heritage booth Marge Pryately was quizzing kids on their knowledge of Slovenia. Not many knew the answers, but all won a prize anyway.
There was bingo, dice games, a huge auction of donated items and lots of hugs and smiles as neighbors, friends and relatives greeted each other.
Just a little farther down the road is St. Cloud. I was curious if there had actually been a saint by that name and was told if you had a big enough book of saints you could find him! The crown jewel of St. Cloud is the Munsinger & Clemens Gardens. This beautifully landscaped city park follows the curve of the Mississippi and even at this end of the blooming season, the park was a delight. There are swinging benches to watch the river and the ducks, and paved pathways through the huge old trees and well-tended gardens. As the morning warmed up, runners, walkers and strollers started appearing everywhere. Sam Huda and his girls, 7-year-old Amina and 2-year-old Maya, were out “giving Mom a chance to study”.
Some stormy weather rolled in for the afternoon, which worked just fine for me. It gave me a chance to finish up my chores. I have now washed the crud from my car, had its oil changed, done my laundry, backed up my images and cleaned every surface of every lens and filter in my bags. We are good to go, little raindrop – lead on!