Writer’s Block:Country in the county

The past couple of weeks have opened my eyes to the beauty and stillness of wilderness and country in Anoka County. I know my home county is richly adorned with beauty of all sorts – both natural and man-made. But never have I spent much extended time on the wooded and wild edges of the region.

Sue Austreng
Sue Austreng

I live in a townhouse in the city of Anoka, and have long appreciated the history and age of this storied old town. I’ve spent days wandering the streets, exploring the rows of ancient homes and visiting the historic buildings that serve as eating places, churches, antique shops, clothing stores and offices.

I’ve taken pleasure in learning the history of some of Anoka’s neighborhoods: Slab Town, Whiskey Flats, Christian Hill and Swede Town to name a few. But that’s city life in dear old Anoka County. Until recently, I’ve never been exposed to country life in this old county of ours.

This isn’t the first time I’ve visited St. Francis. Of course, I’ve been to my son’s place before, my brother used to live in St. Francis, and my other son attended school there for a bit. And I’ve been to that town on stories and interviewed people who live and work there, but I’ve never stayed for any stretch of time.

That is until a couple of weeks ago, when my son invited me to stay at his house on the outskirts of St. Francis where I would have the pleasure not only of dog- and house-sitting for him while he was out-state for a couple of weeks, but living in the wide open spaces of farm country. My son lives on a dirt road across from a horse farm in the extreme northwestern edge of St. Francis. His nearly full-acre lot is framed with sturdy evergreens and lazy grasses. The 18-miles between my home and my son’s vividly illustrates the environmental and cultural stretch between city life and country living.

As I head from my city home to my son’s country home, I cross a creek or two and a babbling brook as I navigate along the Rum River and pass acres of golden corn rustling beneath the wide blue sky. Ancient wooden barns dot the autumn ground. Paint peels from leaning walls, silos tilt and hay lofts droop – days and nights of sun, snow, rain and heat adding texture and sun-dried color to the primitive scene.

Approaching St. Francis city limits, I drive past horses and cattle nodding toward the earth, nibbling wild oats as the sun bakes their sturdy hide. Along the road, dried grasses wave in the wind as orange, yellow and red leaves float lazily to the ground. Cattails burst open and release fluffy seed into the air.

And then I reach my son’s St. Francis home and the city-to-country transition is complete. Earlier today, as I sat out on the porch with my morning coffee, the sun winked over the horizon, teasing a pair of mares across the road and melting the frosty hay scattered around them. Soon, wild turkeys gobbled a “good morning” from deep within the forest and then – sure enough – a rooster crowed to announce the start of a brand new day.

Yes, St. Francis is a beautiful town, one that harkens back to simpler times. Folks look out for each other here on the edges of the county, always aware of what’s happening across the wide open spaces that separate neighbors. I’d only been here a couple of days when a farmer from across the way brought over a burlap sack full of fresh sweet corn. He’d noticed someone new staying at my son’s place and thought he’d say “hello” by sharing some of his harvest. Why, even the animals come to their neighbor’s rescue when trouble seems imminent. Not long ago my son’s yellow lab heard a strange and ferocious growl and raced across the acreage to the neighbor lady’s house, standing between the woman and a strange dog until the threatening canine backed off.

Life out here is simple and real. Sweeter and warmer. Offering time to rest, to dream, to breathe deeply and extol praises to the creator for the beauty he so graciously provides. Even now, as I sit on the porch, ancient evergreens reach from the forest floor, waving their sturdy arms and bouncing autumn sunlight among their shining needles.  “Welcome,” those old pine trees seem to be saying. “Come. Escape and rest. Free to celebrate the beauty of God’s glorious creation.”