Well, Toto, I ain’t in Kansas anymore!
As I surveyed the tiny, northwoods town of Brainerd, Minn., I couldn’t help feeling I had been dropped off the face of the moon. What’s a California girl (born and raised), doing slugging cement and playing carpenter at my husband’s family home in dinky “podunkville?” As an ad for the movie “Fargo,” once declared, “A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.”
Brainerd’s cast of characters is for real. First, its simple, natural beauty will take your breath away. The incredible number of lakes surrounded by a huge assortment of pines, evergreens, oaks, aspens, birch and maples is a postcard at almost every turn. Have you ever heard the haunting, mournful call of the loon? I guarantee, you’ll never forget it. And then there’s the silence. Many times the roads are near-empty and all you hear is the earnest honking of snow geese flying overhead.
The silence is especially deafening at the ancient town cemetery where you see centuries old-style upright tombstones and marble family name monuments. Here you can hear the wind rustle through the many trees, where in the fall, the golden, pink, red and yellow leaves glisten in the sunlight as if lit up from within by thousands of soft candles. You might even be visited by a playful, baby squirrel, as I was, who danced around me and kept hopping up and down the tombstones, then, just as quickly, with one shy, backward glance, skipped away.
Best of all, I keep coming back for the people. If you’re looking for some “action” Brainerd style, then just hop over to The Barn, the unofficial community center. Situated on the tiny main street, The Barn is a very rustic diner, about the size of a postage stamp. Always crowded to the seams, young and old, rich and poor, gather here, to exchange the latest gossip, compare the latest farm auction purchase, or, their favorite topic, just gripe about the weather. The waitresses belt out a “Hi, Hun,” and remember your usual, even months later.
Maybe it’s true that we can’t ever go home again. All I know is, if I had the money to go anywhere in the world, I’d head right straight back to Brainerd, in a heartbeat. It’s not fancy. It’s not exotic and exciting, and God knows, it’s not California. But, if you’re willing to slow down, to unplug, and be still for a few moments, and savor that moment just for the pure, simple joy of it, then maybe, just maybe, home will find its way back to you.