Seeing an old farm in a new light

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Sometimes, finding one’s “happy place” is as simple as rediscovering a backyard.

Such was the case for my brother Rodney and his wife Sharon, who have spent all of their 30-plus years of married life on a second farm my father bought in the late 1960s from his uncle. When Rod and Sharon purchased the farmstead from Dad, the place had been neglected and they dutifully fixed up the farmhouse, tore down a dilapidated barn and tidied the lawn.

But the expansive woods behind their home had gone untouched for the better part of a century, and there was no extra time to contemplate any improvements while raising three boys. So the trees stood there, some languishing over time, until a few years ago when Rod needed to carve a trail to his workshop in a clearing on the other side of the woods. (To refresh your memory Rod is the one-time dairy farmer turned kaleidoscope maker and massage therapist, and he used this shop to make kaleidoscopes.)

He took a chain saw to the brush and soon had an adequate pathway through the trees to the shop. It was a lovely little jaunt, with birds chirping under the lush canopy of trees. Then one day a couple of years ago, he contemplated: if one trail could be so soothing, what about more trails? So he created more pathways, first using a chain saw, then a shovel, rake and wide-tined silage fork to smooth the walkways in the rich, black dirt.

“That first year, when you walked about 50 feet in, it became this primordial forest with bird sounds,” Rod told me. “And I thought, if this is great, I’ve gotta make more trails.”

So he kept going, and going and going, kind of like the Energizer bunny, even when Sharon said that’s probably enough trails. Like all such projects it took on a life of its own. Soon Sharon, who had collected a wide variety of pig-themed knick-knacks (or as Rod referred to it: “14 tons of pig stuff”), suggested they hide the tiny pig trinkets along the trails so users can look for them along the way.

The pig “planting” led to trail names: Swine Street, Wallow Way, Truffle Trail, Boar Boulevard…you get the idea. Then Rod gifted Sharon with classic green street signs for the various trails.

I got a tour of the completed 3-mile trail system a couple of months ago and was surprised by how peaceful and otherworldly these old woods have become. Even better, Rod had carved a trail to a nearby lake that borders his property and created the perfect summer sanctuary from which to watch the sun set.

An offshoot trail runs between some farm fields and a beautiful expanse of state-owned wetlands that are brimming with waterfowl these days. As Rod and I walked along that trail one glorious summer evening recently, I thought about how I’d never seen the old farm from this vantage point.

When one of their friends was too ill with cancer to come and see the trails, they created a video using a drone and then hand-held camera through the woods to capture their enchanted forest, set the video to soothing songs such as “What A Wonderful World” and sent it to her. I cried when I watched it.

The video’s title, appropriately, is “Every Trail Leads Home.” And so it is that this little patch of paradise in my old Minnesota neighborhood has become my happy place in my mind. When the stress of the day becomes too much, I imagine myself along those trails, or by their lake, and once again, it is, indeed, a wonderful world.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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