The Big Woods. In the early 1800s, pre-settlement, huge stretches of Minnesota were covered in dense elm, basswood, sugar maple, and oak stands. When the French explorers came here, they noticed that these trees were taller and larger than those in many of the other forests they'd traveled through, so bois grand, they said. Big woods.
Big, beautiful woods, I said, as I walked along the extensive trails at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve, just outside of Delano. My mother and I had met there for a picnic: chicken salad and crackers, a green apple, fresh-picked strawberries, and cold water. As we explored the quiet beach, the busy playground, and the shady walkways, I thought about those early-1800s years and how Minnesota looked then. One of my childhood dreams was to be an explorer, to walk over land few had seen. Although the many acres that make up Lake Rebecca Park were discovered long ago, ambling through it gave me a bit of that experience, because--what is up ahead of that bend, you know?
Three Rivers Park District--one of my favorite organizations out here west of the Minneapolis metro--is doing their best to restore parts of the land to its original state, plump full of creatures like the pileated woodpecker, the little brown bat, the barred owl, the blue-spotted salamander, the chipmunk, and trees like the burr oak and green ash.
I wish them all the luck in our big world. Parks like these are literal gifts to their community. How lucky we are to have places to go that are tucked away, that are wild, that are full of the best and most rejuvenating kinds of sounds and smells and sights. Every time I discover a new one around Minnesota, I can't imagine living anywhere else.