Thankful for so many things

(Sorry for the obviously belated posting of this one folks!)

Local community members explore Nora Olson’s prairie at a workshop in Stillwater Township this summer.

A few days after Thanksgiving, our son Charlie will turn one. I tell friends that we overestimated how hard life with a baby would be and underestimated how fun. I’ve become one of those mothers, head over heels in love with my kid, and just so thankful that he’s part of our life.

I’ve got a lot to be grateful for these days. After five years of driving two hours round-trip to work every day, my husband and I finally sold our house and moved to Stillwater last summer. I now enjoy a two-mile commute to my office, sometimes by bike, as well as the pleasure of being part of a real community. We’re a short but steep walk from a vibrant downtown, lined with locally owned shops, restaurants and cafes. (From our old home in Savage, we could walk to Target, Cub or Rainbow, though it hard to see why we would want to.) We’re also but a short stroll away from the St. Croix River, Lily and McKusick Lakes, and a lovely ravine trail that follows a stream flowing east from Lake McKusick.

Less than a month after we moved here, my mother sold her home in the Milwaukee area and joined us here in Stillwater as well. I’m thankful that she’s close by to help us raise Charlie and I add her, as well as our at-home daycare provider, to the list of amenities within walking distance of our house.

There are many places in the United States where one can find awe-inspiring natural beauty. Likewise, there are places in this country where a strong social fabric binds together people and places within the community.  Yet, I am particularly thankful to live in a place like Stillwater where both of these characteristics are true.

When I was training for Ironman Arizona three years ago, I used to bring my bike to work with me and then split my day in half, heading out for long rides during the day while it was light outside, and then coming back to my desk for a few hours in the evening to finish the work I had started. I marveled at the fact that no matter which direction I headed from our office, the scenery was beautiful. Roads north lead to the rolling hills of Stillwater and May Townships, Scandia, Marine and lake after lake after lake. Southwest through Lake Elmo, Baytown and West Lakeland, the land is a patchwork of picturesque pasture, wetlands and prairie. Due south through Afton, the roads are steep and winding, wooded and marked by frequent turkeys and deer. Now as a Stillwater resident, I ride these roads on weekends and summer evenings, grateful for time alone with my thoughts, fresh air and exercise.

The magic of the St. Croix Valley doesn’t happen by accident. Every polluted river was once a clear stream and every run-down town was once a gathering of people at the edge of that stream or that lake or that unending prairie, settling down with a dream of the life that could be. The magic of the St. Croix Valley comes from the people who live here and care enough to protect the lakes and the streams and the river, the charming downtowns and the beautiful vistas. Because people care enough to give their time, money and energy, there are trails through the woods and state and regional parks along the river. Because people care enough about maintaining our cultural and economic vitality, there are locally-owned businesses downtown and sidewalks to get there.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I’m thankful for the joy that Charlie has brought into our lives, as well as to be raising him in a community like Stillwater where natural beauty abounds, the social fabric is strong, and people keep working to make it even better.