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Why I love Albert Lea

Why I love Albert Lea by Mary Boorsma

 

My family moved to Albert Lea during a cold and snowy January many years ago. Sitting in our tiny rental, surrounded by boxes, looking out the big bay window onto a bleak landscape made a deep impression. I can remember driving the children to school along Garfield and passing Blazing Star Trail. What, I wondered, was tucked back into that piece of woods? As the snow retreated and the punishing cold ended, I loaded a stroller into the trunk and my baby and I walked the double loop of Blazing Star nearly every day. There were regular walkers, and we grew accustomed to friendly greetings. One morning a woman excitedly told me, “There’s a fox den by the fence line.” This was news worth sharing, and soon the fox family became a part of the brief, smiling salutation between strangers on the trail.

Since that spring I’ve walked and biked and driven and shopped a lot around Albert Lea. From the trail at Brookside to Myre-Big Island State Park to the Big Island Rendezvous to the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center, I’ve been invited into the community that’s built around small joys and shared experiences. When I’m by the city beach and a stranger says, “Did you see the rainbow?” and I turn to see my first ever western rainbow cast by the rising sun, I feel lucky and included.

We all know that a joy shared is a joy multiplied and that sharing can halve our sorrows. Being in the grocery store the past several weeks has been an exercise in patience and deep breathing. So many determined faces. So many scared feelings. Then one stranger catches my eye, and we smile at each other. “I got bread,” she says triumphantly.

“I got rice,” I respond in kind. We smile again and go on our way, a little less scared, with more room in our lungs for abundance.

It reminds me of the litany at church: “The Lord be with you.”

“And with you, too.”

With these words we place figurative hands on the shoulders of our neighbors and tell them that we wish for them the lavishness found in trust, the health and flourishing every human craves. Likewise, during an elementary school Fun Night, while dozens of excited, loud children careen from game to game, and a parent says, “Isn’t this fun?” the shared laughter helps make the night actually fun.

An early morning gym user will ask, “Did you see that moon?” and I am fortunate enough that I did see that moon, hanging just above Fountain Lake, a tiny sliver about to disappear for three days before wowing us again in the evening western sky. I saw it and you saw it, and the gift of our shared vision is community.

Small business in Albert Lea is all about community. A man brings his tissue box-sized potato into the store because you sold him the potato seed that spring. The folks carrying baggies of Japanese beetles and sprigs of maple with tar spot and an eggplant that looks nothing like the picture on the seed package. We seek solutions and connection and vision. Together.

Community happens in a small gathering around a shared point of interest. Community is five to seven people reading the same book and gathering to talk about it. Community is verbal high-fives in the aisles of a grocery store. The passing of information at the gym. People knowing your dog’s name when you walk the lake. These kinds of exchanges aren’t unique to this Albert Lea, but it has been in this town that I have had these exchanges and that’s why I love Albert Lea.

 

Mary Boorsma works at the Albert Lea Seed House Garden Center, where she has learned more about community through lawn care than she ever imagined possible.