Being With Plants: Editor’s Letter and TOC

Taking a walk probably isn’t the cure for everything, but it can’t hurt.

Whenever I go around the block or into the woods, I like to remind myself that even if the fresh air doesn’t seem to be clearing my bad mood away, the plants I pass are releasing aerosols that can reduce anxiety and improve brain function. Even if we can’t feel them in the moment, the benefits of being with the natural world will likely manifest later, the result of an ancient relationship that circumnavigates the thinking mind.

We are proud to have won six awards from the Minnesota Newspaper Association — three for photography. We also won Best Use of Social Media, Best Magazine Article, and a Lynn Smith Community Leadership Award for our 2023 coverage about gender-based violence. Holding our awards are co-editor Lydia Moran (l) and marketing manager Amber Lynum.

Because of that, I usually dictate these editor’s letters while wandering around outside. Right now my feet are plodding the soft earth at the edge of the Mississippi River. There is no snow; instead, I gaze down at a murky network of mud and muted green-and-brown grass, dead leaves, twigs, stones, and many more things I can’t see.

Someone in a full-body wetsuit is gliding over the iceless river on a water hoverboard. They look like a character out of a sci-fi movie; the purr of the motor cuts through the soft lapping of the strangely flowing river. Is this the future of Minnesota winter recreation?

While this year’s weird temperatures are largely the result of El Niño, Minnesota’s winters are getting progressively warmer, and the warmer months are getting wetter. Many species of wildlife, including iconic northern tree species such as spruce, aspen, black ash, and birch, are expected to decline, as well as the habitats that support wild rice (manoomin, psíŋ). Human health, agriculture, and infrastructure will be impacted by increased flooding, longer allergy seasons, expanded tick ranges, and warmer temperatures.

Globally, the Guardian reported that the planet was 1.48°C (correction: about ~2.66°F) hotter in 2023 compared with the “period before the mass burning of fossil fuels ignited the climate crisis.” Scientists say the higher temperatures are in line with the predicted result of increased carbon emissions, but the speed and intensity of severe weather impacts — such as heat waves, loss of sea ice, and wildfires — is alarming many experts.

“Every year for the rest of your life will be one of the hottest [on] record,” Professor Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University told the Guardian. “This in turn means that 2023 will end up being one of the coldest years of this century.”

Plants Teach Us About Change

As we planned this issue, our goal was to explore how plants impact, and are impacted by, Minnesota’s changing climate. But I think it ended up being about relationships — those formed between people and plants.

Many of our storytellers — whether they are scientists, musicians, or farmers — are exploring how spending time with vegetation benefits both parties. Dr. Julie Etterson studies how scientists can help our northern forests adapt. Cherilyn Spears worked to move Red Lake Nation into food sovereignty and helped restore some of the surrounding ecosystem in the process. Sachiko Graber, Jothsna Harris, and Monica McDaniel write about how being with nature created paths to healing from the burnout that advocating for better climate solutions can cause.

Before editing this issue, my response to thinking about the future of the planet was one of grief, despair, and not much else. But these storytellers helped me realize that we can tap into our relationships with plant life to learn about change, and to increase our own capacity to continue fighting for healthy ecosystems in the face of it. First, we have to know who we’re fighting alongside.

Table of Contents

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.”

— Wangari Maathai, Kenyan political, social, and environmental activist

How Cherilyn Spears Helped Move Red Lake Nation to Food Sovereignty

Farming Resilience

Burnt-Out People Cannot Serve a Burning Planet

Helping Minnesota’s Forests Transition

Converging Consciousness

Q&A With Lina “Mama Tshutshu” Nyaronge

Depicting a Complex World

Readers Respond: What is your favorite children’s book?

Elder Guide: Brain Stimulation and Respite

In the News: March 2024

Online only: Taxpayer-funded factory farms, and Minnesota trends

Upcoming magazine topics include Celebrations (April), Mental Health (May), and Hometown Values & Vision (June)