The Kids Just Get It

Artful raingardens grand opening procession

Last night, as I was watching the sun set over the St. Croix River and listening to fiddler Don Mitchell play at Hudson’s Lakefront Park I realized that sometimes the kids just get it. Mitchell started with a slow song that conjured up images of floating lazily down the river on a summer’s day, but as soon as he switched gears to a faster paced song, all the children in the crowd jumped to their feet and started to dance. They hopped and skipped, grabbed friends and twirled round. Even when the music changed again, the kids kept on dancing, changing now to interpretive dance, slow and graceful like the song. “Of course,” I thought, as I sat there with the sun on my face and soft grass under my hands. Of course we should get up and dance when someone plays a fiddle along the banks of the St. Croix River. When did we forget how to do that?

The fiddle music was just the first act in the grand opening celebrations for the Artful Raingardens exhibit at the Phipps Center for the Arts. Next up was a performance from the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater entitled Are you Thirsty? As the two performers jumped to the stage they called out to the crowd, “Are you thirsty?” “Yes!” the kids and their parents shouted in return. “We’re thirsty!” They then proceeded with a show that somehow managed to explore the topics of drinking water availability and non-point source pollution in a manner light-hearted enough to entertain the children gathered round while at the same time forcing the adults in the audience to consider some uncomfortable truths. “For a person to be healthy,” said the actors, “they need 17 gallons of water a day. Here in the U.S., however, we use 117 gallons of water per person per day.” This may seem like a lot, but the majority of the water that we use each day is invisible to us, they explained, and then illustrated humorously with a story about strawberries in winter. The children all laughed while adults like myself made a mental note not to buy strawberries in the winter anymore.

“What if we didn’t spray toxic chemicals on our lawns to kill the dandelions?” the puppeteers asked later on in the performance. “Yeah!” cried the kids, instantly realizing that this was an easy answer. “What if?” I wondered to myself, remembering how I use to gather dandelion bouquets for my mom and string the flowers together into necklaces. You’ve got to admit that a hillside awash in bright yellow flowers is a beautiful sight, especially in the spring when the flower gardens are just starting. Not only that, but the plant is entirely edible. The root can be dried and then ground-up to make coffee, while the young leaves are delicious and nutritious in a salad. When I worked at a nature center we used to pluck off the flowers, roll them in pancake batter and then fry them in oil to make dandelion fritters that tasted a lot like mini-doughnuts.

As the sun slid further down towards the river, it was time for the puppet show to come to an end. “Come to the river with us!” the actors called out to the crowd. Without hesitation the children jumped up and formed a line behind the costumed figure representing water. Some waved flags they had made especially for the event, while others helped to carry the A River Runs Through Us walking mural, created by local artists. Down to the river they went and then up to the museum where people were already walking around the galleries marveling at the artwork on display. There were paintings by James Willcox Dimmers that perfectly captured different stretches of the St. Croix River, handmade boats crafted from natural plant materials, created by Karla Faith and other artists, and a spectacular display in a room overlooking the river that illustrated the roots of native plants using ribbons, wire and strings hung from the ceiling.

As my husband and I packed up to leave we watched a little girl who had been sitting next to us on the grass sob to her mother. “I don’t want to leave,” she cried. “I don’t want it to be over.” Haven’t we all felt that way sometime? We’ve convinced ourselves somewhere along the way that we can’t make the time to dance to the fiddle music, laugh at the puppet show, admire the art and care for the river. Sometimes, though, the kids just get it.

The Artful Raingardens exhibit is on display through July 20. There is a Cirque du Soil Raingarden Fair on Sunday, June 26 and a raingarden training build on Saturday, July 9. Learn more at