It might not be so bad to be in Minot, N.D.Published 8:00am Sunday, March 16, 2014
Column: Creative Connections, by Sara Aeikens
Recently I revisited my childhood experiences in Minot, N.D., because a fellow church member gave a presentation to a group of senior citizens about his carpentry mission trip to my hometown in the aftermath of the flooding three years ago. I also was asked to share some of my background stories at the same event.
A torrent of memories came back as I thought about the physical surroundings and community offerings of the Minot area, in addition to the impact of my parents’ values and lifestyle on me.
My dad, a biology professor at what is now Minot State University, did research about the land structure within walking distance of the college before purchasing a house. I heard him advise others to live east of their job, but ironically the sun shown in his face on his daily walks both to and from his office on campus.
He found a corner residence about three blocks away from the winding Souris River, known locally as the Mouse River, which creates a loop that both starts and finishes in Canada. He found information (without the help of computers) that showed where the river had overflowed its banks over the eons, and it indicated the flooding zone stopped at the street edge next to the corner of his prospective property.
Sure enough, the Mouse River flooded decades later, and a sturdy dike, probably built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, appeared just yards from our front door and was removed as the waters receded.
In 2011 the Mouse River basin flooded again and caused extensive damage to the Minot and the surrounding valley area. Again, the home had nearby dike protection, but this time the water crept closer than the previous occurrence.
When I attended a homecoming gathering in the fall of 2013, I witnessed much of the damage floodwaters by touring the area and viewing it from the summits of various city hills.
Looking downward into the valley, I spotted the Amtrak station and thought about how train trips to the Twin Cities set the stage for my future extensive traveling adventures, including a Peace Corps stint.
Remembering what the town offered while growing up helped me realize how much it contributed to my personal growth and direction.
I could also see the college where for all 12 grades I attended the campus model school that trained college students to be teachers. There I learned journalism skills in high school and used the extensive print shop provided.
Band and choir practice rooms and instructors made learning instruments more than just a dream, and that led to marching band and summer international band camps on the Canadian border. Camping as a Girl Scout also meant traveling to lakeside camps, lots of swimming and learning basic survival skills.
Minot housed an extensive zoo, swimming pool and well-planned park. These enticed me to learn to ride my bike safely several miles to the other side of town.
Behind our home the nearby hills provided hiking paths that led to croaking frogs and giant grasshoppers hidden near waters of bubbling brooks. We hung pails with hooks on our belts to grasp ripe Juneberries and even sour succulent chokecherries during our climbs through the ravines (the locals call them coulees) to the elusive sloughs.
In the winter the slopes became runways for the neighborhood playmates, sledding to the edge of the road two blocks from our driveway.
The green space surrounding an imposing veterans’ hospital became a gathering point for playground games and drew our attention to the presence of the Air Force base a dozen miles to the north. My mother volunteered at the USO that provided activities for the airmen, and my dad taught some of them in his classes.
At our home on the corner, my parents tended our large flower and vegetable gardens and shared both knowledge and produce with servicemen, neighbors and the interested ecology-minded and nature-loving community. Butterflies, bees and birds flourished even though a feline member of our family prowled nearby.
From a variety of denominations in our community, we became Presbyterians probably because my dad taught in a Presbyterian school in Iran for several years before the Depression. That influenced me to attend a college with a global outlook, and I chose Macalester College in St. Paul.
This is how I arrived in Minnesota and eventually landed in Albert Lea, where we have resided for the past 46-plus years.
It is disheartening to hear, every now and then, offhand comments about how our community doesn’t have much to offer. Like Minot provided for me, this town opened opportunities for our son, including education, mentoring and early job training in his field of interest.
I believe our positive attitudes as citizens can make a huge difference in helping our children thrive, rather than just survive. We need to see the rivers of possibility that flow through our community.
I am glad we do not have to think much about actual river flooding in Albert Lea. However, since our piles of snow will most likely melt soon, we may have to traverse slushy streams of water before we see, feel and declare it spring once more!
Sara Aeikens resides in Albert Lea.