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ISSUE 121 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/9/2008

Blue skies and freedom abound: Spending the summer in Northfield

By Lyndel Owens
Variety Editor
and Peter Meng
Variety Editor

Friday, May 9, 2008

It's sticky, a river runs through it and on the Hill things are, well, silent. Welcome to summer in Northfield. The experience is a surreal fusion of relaxation and the collegiate atmosphere -- or at least the buildings and conference-goers. Summering in Northfield is an odd liminal state because you're literally at school but the only things in your hands are a pint of Cherry Garcia and a big spoon with no TI-83 in sight.

Though the Cannon River gushes with black crappies and bass as fisherpersons swell to its sides, the St. Olaf campus runs dry in the summer save a handful of souls floundering for summer flings and summer fun. The mood on campus is low-key, the scenery is blooming, and the weather is the answer to your most frigid dreams. Ahh yes! Right? Thing is, what on earth is there to do when Northfield is your summer home?

The first option has two wheels. Bikes are instrumental to summer success, inexpensive transportation and great for group outings. A quick pedal down to town cuts off more than 10 minutes from the 15-minute walk and a basket on the back can cart anything from art supplies to a fishing pole. In fact, fishing in the Cannon River is wildly enjoyable and a great way to meet new people or retrieve dinner if you're in chronic a cash crunch. Watch for bones though.

A choice bike trail for scenic exercise is Mill Towns Trail. It runs four miles south from the train tracks near Kwik Trip to its terminus in the thriving metropolis of downtown Dundas. Stop by the L & M Bar on Railway Street after your ride for the best root beer around, or bike a little farther down the way to Fermentations.

The small, quaint restaurant is considered by many to be the classiest institution in Southern Minnesota with their orgasmic wild boar or ostrich fillet, a past favorite. "I consider it the best restaurant in the area. The ambiance was very classy," Miriam Samuelson '08 said. "Norah Jones' music was playing. I sampled three different kinds of wine. I had a really satisfying experience there."

To make your off-campus experience memorably "off-campus," check out Fermentations' wine list featuring fresh vintage wines. And even if you forget where you parked your bike, to lock your bike or your way back to Northfield, do not forget to take a slice of cheesecake with raspberry coolies, Fermentations chef Katelyn Reid '10 said. "But if one were to sit down," she added, "the chocolate cupcake with Bailey's cream cheese frosting is sinful."

An expansive network of bike trails begins at the town of Cannon Falls, 16 miles east of Northfield along U.S. Highway 19. With plenty of stops along the way these trails are ideal for all-day biking. Red Wing is a scenic town buttressed by the Mississippi River and cliffs like 350-foot high Barn Bluff -- a superb picnic place for ambitious biker-hikers. Before you go, be sure to check out the website below to see which Cannon Falls and Red Wing merchants sell trail passes. An all-day pass costs $3 and a season pass costs $20.

But many of the students summering in Northfield are busy with jobs, internships, research, classes or a combination of the four. Even in the warmest months of the year, stress can still be endemic on or off campus. There are times when the day is done that biking, hiking or walking to Northfield is just too much, so you conk out, sprawled on the mattress like an indoor housecat with the windows cranked open and your sleepy-time drool creeping out of your mouth next to the pods of sweat covering your face -- all before the evening sun crests the natural land's trees. You need something to look forward to on the weekend. You need a lift. You need soaring.

According to chemistry professor Bob Hanson, the Minnesota Soaring Club takes to the summertime skies every Saturday and Sunday starting at noon at the Stanton Airport. The airport is 10 miles east of Northfield along U.S. Highway 19. The best way to receive a ride in the skies is to show up, show interest, and politely ask for a demo ride regardless of where or how long the pilot is going to fly.

Your best bet is go on a day that's a little less than clear -- otherwise the pilots will perform tricks that are awesome to watch but ones they are unlikely to take you on the ride for. Yet, Hanson notes that there are perks to going out when the weather's nice."On a really good day, with a descent pilot, you can fly over Northfield," he said. Commercial pilots are permitted to charge for the rides and private pilots cannot, but donations are appreciated regardless.

Downtown Northfield never takes a day off, especially during the summer months. Bridge Square, located at the intersection of Division and Fourth Street adjacent to the Cannon River, hosts activities almost daily. Bridge Square also offers easy access to several walking tails along the beautiful Cannon River.

Northfield is a wired place. With its bars, coffee bars and a plentitude of bloggers, finding out about weekend events should be a cinch. For example, 'Thursdays on the Square' is an incredible way to ease into the slow swing of life as a summer townie. This state of being is a beautiful thing that ought to be embraced by patronizing a couple favorite restaurants and bars regularly and knowing what's going on downtown. Residents gather at Bridge Square for music and a variety of shows every Thursday evening beginning in June and ending in August. Be sure to break out your lawn chairs and set up camp early if you want to see the show because the events are typically packed and bustling.

Although the Norsemen and St. Olaf Bands may be on hiatus, this is no excuse not to pick up and play a few notes on your instrument. Musicians from all walks of life are invited to join the Northfield Community Band. It's a great way to pick up a few jam partners and diversify the age demographics of your friend base. The experience will be nothing less than Nellie McKay/Jack Johnson meets Joan Baez/Neil Young -- only at Division and Fourth Street, and with free pie. But seriously, practices are held each Tuesday during the summer months. Performances are on Thursday evenings and admission is free.

Break a leg performing in the Northfield Art Guild's summer theater program. This summer, the theater will be producing "Holes," an award winning children's novel and "The Merry Wives of Windsor," one of Shakespeare's greatest comedies. Although auditions are now over, tickets can still be purchased for upcoming performances in the downtown Art Guild Theater. Admission to performances is $10 for adults.

Early rewards from the growing season can be purchased at the Northfield Farmer's Market starting during May. The market is held each Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Southgate Cinema parking lot, Tuesday and Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Riverside Park and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Riverside Park. Cooking with freshly grown vegetables picked at their prime can help make any meal delicious.

Up late and starving for something good over the weekend? Sweet Lou's Waffle Bar is open until 2 a.m. each Friday and Saturday night. Although you're probably longing for sleep, don't bother getting the coffee. Go straight to the waffles.

Worry not fellow Oles, for Northfield is constantly bustling with energy and activity during the summer months. Local bands and productions produced by the local arts guild provide a vibrant and classy nightlife which many of us are unable to enjoy during a typical semester. From taking a quiet, peaceful bike ride along one of several biking trails to soaring thousands of feet above the plains of southeastern Minnesota with a pilot, something fun awaits all of us. Spending your summer in Northfield is one of the best ways to explore and connect with the local community without the full-blown load of academia.

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