MINNESOTA: IS IT STILL THE VERY SPECIAL PLACE IT ONCE USED TO BE?
I am afraid something has changed here…
And I hate to say that and the more I think about it, the less I understand the whole situation. Minnesota once used to be a place I could consider my second home (even more than Raleigh, no matter how many people would remember me down there!) without any hesitation. Although I do think it is a beautiful land, the strong feelings did not develop because of the lakes or forests there but because of two Minnesotans. It used to be a fun place to return to for a few years. And then I made mistakes and everything got complicated and I was not supposed to come back. Ever.
This last stage, however, did not last terribly long and while in Raleigh, NC I was encouraged to travel up North again. My pride did not want to hear anything like that at first but whatever little good was in me, it won and made me come. Once I accepted the fact that two more weeks in the US would screw up some of the plans I had had for the rest of my summer break, I even started looking forward to visiting my beloved place and most importantly, people there. People, who were from a very scarce group of loving and caring ones without expecting any profit from themselves and people whom I owed so much and whom, I though, I loved so much. To top it off, I had not seen them for a year or even a couple of years, our shared past included plenty of wonderful moments (There should be more to come, right?) and there were reasons to assume it might be our last meeting (Sad, isn’t it?).
Two and a half hour flight from Raleigh to Minneapolis/St. Paul was short enough not to get too bored and long enough to do a decent amount of thinking – evaluating my stay in Raleigh, considering what decisions I have to make this fall, replaying the nice moments I had in the US during my previous visits and thinking about possible scenarios for this summer. Unfortunately the reality could not have been more different. Seeing someone dear only once a year at the most, apparently not being over what happened in the past (yet) and not being sure how to handle the consequences was truly a pole position. Add terribly cold weather (definitely for someone who spent two months in a terribly hot weather), little bit of sadness (Is there really a reason for it?), zero confidence of what is OK to do or say, strong suspicion that the nice treating was not honest but rather a result of obligation, and a pinch of feelings of betrayal and wrong (Were they really needed so badly?) and you have got a highly efficient recipe for a miserable time.
While I watched the biggest relationship crisis of my life growing from bad to worse, the first week of my only vacation this summer still offered a few highlights worth sharing.
Roller blades being first produced in Minnesota by Olsen brothers, the state offering thousands of lakes and miles of trails along their shores and finally, me loving roller blading united and the outcome was three skating session and 32 Minnesotan miles added to my US mileage this summer.
My skates and me have visited a few places together and I therefore feel entitled to claim that the beautiful trio of lakes Harriet, Calhoun and Lake of the Isles is the best for inline skating: beautiful scenery, above-average surface of the trail, perfect level of hilliness (too little not to kill you but enough to avoid a boring flat ride) and people sharing the trail with you are generally nice and no one tries to kill you. Dogs are leashed!
Another sport-related activity was supposed to be a game of mini golf but I could not care less for the course I ended up at. It was a pure, boring putt-putt course. OK, the park with river running through it and lakes were very nice and the grass on the course was super green. None of those, however, make putting (I have done this once before and this is enough till the end of my life.) any more exciting than watching a game of football. I sure was glad for the nice scenery and I only regretted not taking my camera with.
HISTORY OF MINNESOTA
Having visited several museums in Raleigh, NC, I had been worried that I would not handle any more History lessons but, thankfully, I could not have been more wrong. The visit of Fort Snelling (St. Paul) turned out to be much better than any conventional museum. My time there was an enjoyable mixture of education, English practice and photography opportunities.
I might feel too proud to come from a country whose history is so much longer than that of the New World, so it definitely was enriching to realize that there are some decently old buildings in the USA, too and that the Americans do care about them. Four buildings of this huge complex were the original buildings (while the rest were well-done replicas) and one of the originals was the Commanding officer’s house, the first house in Minnesota. What a pleasure to be there and take some pictures!
I knew about the dark history of wars with Native Americans and being somewhat familiar with Indian names for streets and cities in this area, I was not surprised to learn that Minnesota was involved in this controversial issue, too. However, what was a shocking discovery was the fact that there used to be slaves in Midwest. As awful as this practice was, I thought it was limited to the southern states “only.” There is always a lot to learn and for this purpose, the fort was the right place.
Just walking from building to building would have got boring at certain point, however, this was not the case as there were so many demonstrations taking place. There basically was something to watch (and listen to a nice narrative) every half an hour: from infantry drill to very impressive cannon shooting and hardly imaginable old-fashioned way of cooking. Once the meal was prepared, it was a higher-class lady’s turn to eat it and this was one of my favorite parts. Since my early years I was told not to put knife in my mouth and I always wondered why and most importantly, I could not imagine someone actually had done so in the past. Now I know it indeed used to be a part of table etiquette. It was Europeans who first stopped doing so and it took Americans a while to adapt to this new way of eating.
In summary, if I had to live in 1800s, then I would like to be an officer’s wife (or any social class higher than that) and I definitely would not like to see a doctor. Ever. I understood that from a great part, people used to rely on herbs (which is all right even today but you may need serious drugs at certain point), dentistry sounded just awful, I shivered when only imaging old-days surgery and I never even tried to imagine baby delivery two centuries ago and earlier.
One does not need to disappear in a total wilderness in order to admire the nature of Minnesota. In fact, it may take as little as visiting the Longfellow Gardens and Minnehaha Falls in close proximity to them.
In order to get more unusual Biology-learning experience, there is Richardson Nature Center for you. To meet North America’s native plants, feel free to explore adjacent forest and meadow. And do not be discouraged by the walk’s name (Native Plants Hike) as it does not involve a whole lot of walking at all. In the center’s buildings, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about variety of life forms: amphibians and reptiles, raptors and other birds, bees and more insect. The peak of any visit, however, should be the monarch butterfly tagging. Pre-educated during my previous visits as well as down in Raleigh, I knew about declining numbers of this butterfly species and none of the facts that they have their favorite flowers, that they migrate terribly long distance to overwinter and are tagged as a part of studying them were new to me. Yet, it is very different to see a few pictures or watch a short video and to see the tagging in action. To test my patience, I ended my visit of the nature center with a fruitless attempt to take some cool pictures of this endangered species.
SEA LIFE MINNESOTA AQUARIUM at the Mall of America
Minnesota being sort of a land-locked state was not a reason to prevent me from encountering my beloved marine life this summer. To see animals as different as hermit crabs and huge sharks, it only takes a trip to the country’s shopping phenomenon, the Mall of America. The very first aquarium’s inhabitants to welcome us were corals, anemones, starfish and other more or less sessile and safe-to-touch organisms. The other “touching” section included rays and other fish species similar to them, such as guitar fish. The weird thing about the rays was that their backs were completely white while the video (a sort of documentary about building the ray exhibit) showed dark grey rays. Have the visitors scrubbed all their pigment or was it due to white sand at the bottom of the tank or was there any other reason?
Having said Good Bye to rays, there were no more chances to touch any animals but this did not bother me at all as I was fine with only watching anyways. During my visit I saw so many different species, often times from rather different environments, that it is impossible to pick my most favorite one. Let’s do top few then. I definitely was impressed by the jellyfish exhibit. It was highly informative while kinda surreal (see the video) and to me, it was the first time I could observe these organisms so closely. They looked so fragile – in fact, it seemed like there was no tissue in their bodies – but they are capable of stinging so badly. For a long time I was mesmerized by their tiny colorless tentacles and by their pumping yet graceful way of floating round the tank. It seemed like no effort to them to keep going.
Although the jellyfish set the bar so high, there were many more memorable moments. My favorite crustacean was a funny spiky crab (called porcupine crab) and I liked the horse fish, too – after all, I do not see them every day. Though most of the area was devoted to sea life, there also was a rain forest section, in other words, another ecosystem needing our protection. There, although a couple of caymans were impressive, I liked colorful and rather small frogs the most.
The key feature of the Minnesota aquarium was definitely a long long tunnel enabling visitors the great experience of having the life swimming all around them except the bottom of the tunnel. While I laughed at the funny creature picking up algae from the tunnel’s ceiling, there were sharks being fed on my left and a huge sea turtle would pass by on my right. There was always something going on there and I hesitate to give any estimations about the length of the tunnel or the number of species living there. It sure was plenty of them: countless fish of all sizes and colors, a few shark and ray species, as well as a hybrid of the two (so called ray shark), a very impressive sawfish and at least a couple of huge marine turtles. However, the ocean life was only one section of the tunnel. There also were species living in the Amazon and Sturgeon lake. The water there was much dimmer and the fish significantly less colored. Sure, the freshwater fish use the same adaptive strategies to survive in their environment but it looked like too much of a contrast to me after admiring the colors of oceans.
The first week of my return to Minnesota was also plenty of food. The only thing I can be sure about is that only minority of it was healthy. As for the bad (this does not equal to not good) stuff, I cannot make any clear statement – I fail to pick my favorite and I do not know (well, do not want to know) which of the treats was the worst one. However, here are my two favorites: