COUNTY AGENT GUY
The city of Stillwater, Minnesota perches on cream-colored limestone bluffs that overlook the coffee-hued St. Croix River. Majestic old houses dot the hillside, sprawling Victorian homes that have sweeping front porches to catch cool breezes, although air conditioning units out behind the houses have made their porches mostly decorative.
My wife and I recently motored to Stillwater to relax and enjoy the scenery. After a hectic day of driving and some hotel hassles, we were ready to rest our bones and simply sit a spell. One of the best places for R and R, we were told, is the river walk located in a park that runs along the banks of the St. Croix.
We found a spot to park our car and soon found a bench to park our heinies. My wife and I soaked up the sumptuous summertime twilight and as we looked out at the river. A steady stream of vehicles thrummed across the nearby Historic Lift Bridge, importing people and goods from Wisconsin into Minnesota and vice versa.
People watching is one of our favorite sports and the river walk offered ample opportunities to indulge in this pastime. My observations led me to conclude that the required uniform for male tourists nowadays is knee-length shorts and a T-shirt, along with a pair of Ray-Bans propped atop the skull.
We espied a trio of teenaged girls standing together in the grass, their gazes fixed on their smart phones. Their social media obsession rendered them insensible to this perfect summer evening in this perfectly manicured park.
One of the pedestrians who strolled past was a young guy who sported a man bun. Seeing that particular hairdo always gives us a chuckle. It’s like suddenly catching sight of an overstuffed clown car weaving crazily down the street.
All manner of watercraft plied the river, from kayaks that were approximately the size of a flip-flop to a cruise ship that looked like a floating city. Hyper-aggressive speed boats roared across the water, their owners leaning mightily into the slipstream, their need to blow off steam trumping the “no wake” rules. Houseboats plodded passively along, riding so low that it appeared as if their front doors were mere inches above the waterline. It’s a good thing Minnesota doesn’t get hurricanes.
The next morning we visited Stillwater’s historic downtown district. Almost everything in Stillwater is historic, including the traffic jam that ensnared us as we wended our way into town.
There are more cute little shops along Stillwater’s main drag than quills on a porcupine. Mountains of lumber harvested from the North Woods was once a mainstay of the city’s economy; today, it’s harvesting money from hordes of tourists. Including us.
We strolled the main avenue, passing one adorable little shop after another. An antique store sang its melodious siren song. Unable to resist, we went inside.
I am of two minds regarding antique stores. On one hand, it’s fun to see all those old items on display. On the other, it’s a bit unsettling to see things that you used as a child classified as “antique.”
Following a grueling morning of shopping, we stopped at a riverside restaurant to refuel and rehydrate. We lounged on the restaurant’s outdoor patio as boats of every description – including an Italian gondola – glided to and fro on the St. Croix. The song “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” began to play in my brain.
We spent the afternoon motoring slowly around Stillwater’s historic residential district. My wife enjoys looking at houses, especially those that are elegant and historic. Every few moments, her hand would shoot across my field of vision as she exclaimed, “Ooh, look at that one!”
We opted to splurge on a sunset dinner cruise aboard a chartered riverboat that was the size of a supertanker. The bill of fare included prime rib and walleye. Perhaps the fish portion of the meal could be made self-sustaining if the boat’s operators allowed its passengers to do a little trolling during the cruise.
The ship moved down the river at a pace that could best be described as “stately.” A mother duck and her brood passed us without breaking a sweat.
There were many wonders to behold as we floated along the placid St. Croix. These included the tree-studded bluffs that rose up from the river, sandy beaches where sun worshippers practiced their religion and a riverside power plant that featured a concrete smokestack that reached high up into the sky.
It was sad to see Stillwater recede in the rearview mirror the next morning. But my wife, sensing my mood, murmured those sweet little words that always make me smile.
“Man bun,” she whispered.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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