DAY 16 – WEDNESDAY, JULY 24

Tom’s birthday! A layover in Little Falls and a day of “rest”—rest from running at least, but not from learning more about this community and all that goes on here.

Out of bed early and over to Zoomski’s for black coffee and breakfast wraps. Dr. Phil stopped by and we traded notes about last night’s awesome event at SPROUT. Local conversation was all about the Minnesota Twins. Bad extra-inning loss to the Yankees last night, controversial call by the umpire, Rocco Baldelli tossed out of the game. Those who stayed up past midnight to see the unfortunate conclusion wished they hadn’t. 

We met Kris from Visit Little Falls over at the Touright Bicycle Shop and walked a block north to catch up with Mary Warner for a tour of the historic Ravine in Little Falls. Joining us were Deb Boelz, Sarah Horn, Collen Austin, Judy Uebelacker, and Karen Paganetti. We traced the course of the Ravine. Following subtle clues in the landscape and guided by Mary’s written and photographic research. We learned about the Little Falls War and stopped in on local shop owner Tony at his 1st Ave Custom Framing and Furniture Restoration shop with lovely strip gardens outside his building.

Kris took Victoria and me on a stroll through downtown (and underground) Little Falls. Apparently basement tours are a big thing here, and you can check out a series done about them on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcGITRwlH6A). We stopped at Great River Arts and the Shoppes of Little Falls. The city is alive on an ordinary summer weekday. People walking, kids bicycling, cars navigating construction (thanks MnDOT!), folks doing business downtown. Some empty storefronts, too . . . Kris has already invited us to buy a house near Linden Hill, next thing she’ll be asking me to rent a storefront for a studio!

We left downtown for a quick tour of the Rosenmeier house (home of visitlittlefalls), and then we were off to meet the sisters and staff at the Franciscan Convent.

There are places on the Mississippi River that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. One is the headwaters where clean springs rise from the earth to begin a journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Another is the Franciscan Sisters Convent in Little Falls, Minnesota.

We’re so grateful that Sister Clara, Sister Elise, Sister Carol and Liz Rydeen took time to show us this wonderful place on the Great River. We sat in the old pews in the chapel and imagined the chorus of voices singing back and forth to each other. Then we strolled outside across the grounds, into the many gardens—a small patch kept up by the nuns, a large area tended by local high school students as part of a health program, and then a vast community garden where local residents can enjoy the beauty of these grounds and the richness of its soil. We took a pause at the cemetery to observe the memorials of all the sisters who have passed, and spent a moment appreciating the labyrinth plotted out in the lawn.

The sisters hold a festival on the grounds open to the entire community, the minister outside of Little Falls, outside of the country even. They are involved in running intentional communities for young people to live in alongside those with vocations, where the young people can take up service work in various non-profit callings. The work of the sisters is truly relevant into our contemporary times, despite the median age of their population sitting around 80 years old. They have even transformed sections of their facility into a public fitness center, with the only pool in town. Another area of the building has been transformed into a bustling music center, where lessons are taught and hundreds of children pass through each year.

We could have spent much more time with the sisters, absorbing their wisdom and the beauties of the convent, and before we left, Tom made sure to go into the gift shop and buy one of their medallions they wear. The dove to represent the Holy Spirit, the T to represent Saint Francis, and the oval the entirety of the cosmos, all things natural and organic in our world. We carry it with us now along with our birch bark canoe from Terry Larson and our cross from St. John’s Monastery.

Now. Over to the west side of the river. Lunch at The Royal. Great Fries. Lots of locals. Quick in and out because Kris had another appointment for us, and we were already running behind.

Following lunch we went back to see Mary, this time at the Weyerhaeuser Morrison County History Center. We visited a bit about the building itself, being built as a museum in the Greek Revival style, and she also showed us a couple recent exhibits—one on the history of tattoo art and another on local industry. The tattoo exhibit in particular really showcased how even a history-focused institution in a somewhat history-focused town was linking together past and present to connect generational interest in the stories that make meaning of our lives.

We stopped short of getting our own tattoos since we had to hurry along to the Charles Lindberg Museum. There we had a great micro-tour of the exhibits and introduction to the life and adventures of Lindberg. Tom and I both climbed into the tiny cockpit space of a mock-up plane based on the one Lindberg flew over the Atlantic. As we made our way through some photos about Lindberg’s tours, we saw one of he and his wife—she quite short and he quite tall, making their way through the air together. Kris couldn’t help but draw a comparison to two other adventurers she’s just met!

Next we went on to the Pine Grove Zoo. There we met Assistant Director Becky, a few black bear, some otters, and some fox who were hiding below ground to stay cool. This small zoo continues to strive to make improvements, and the staff appear dedicated and engaged. 

One more stop on the tour at Cass Gilbert Depot where we met Gina and Mary with the Chamber of Commerce—their offices are housed in this historic train depot which no longer operates as a stop on the line. Instead the restored space houses events and meetings, even bridal showers, as we were witness to a few lingering balloons up in the rafters from a shower just the day before.

Kris brought us back to Linden Hills briefly to get reset before heading out to Shirley Mae’s Outfitter. There we met John Carpenter, Shirley’s son, who runs the business but also practices medicine in town. He set us up in a two-person kayak that we paddled up to the railroad bridge and back down river. We didn’t have enough time with this full itinerary to make it all the way downriver to the next landing, but we did spend enough time on the water to appreciate all those folks who are paddling the length of the river in lieu of running it!

To end the day, we walked over to dinner at the AT Black and White. We were joined for this birthday celebration by Tim, Kris, and Judy, as well as two of Kris’s girls Sammy and Brooklyn. Thomas and Amanda Zimmerman did an enormous job preparing the alligator sent up by the Louisiana Seafood Board, not to mention the Minnesota-themed walleye dinner they made for me and Tom. The group had lively conversation and the girls got impatient for their mom to be done! She did not relent, though.

There was no cake, ice cream or balloons. This made Tom happy. Thank you, Kris.

Ted Pfohl, who we interviewed yesterday, calls this steady and it is. It’s also vibrant.