‘Easy To Get To, Hard To Leave’

Anyone from the Alexandria area will recognize the title of this post because it’s the city’s tagline. And it’s a damn good tagline because it’s true. 

I was talking to a friend on the phone today when my police scanner for work went off, stating there had been a propane explosion and a possible structure fire.

“I don’t know how you make yourself care about those things,” my friend said.

“I don’t make myself,” I replied. “When you live in a small community like this, you recognize last names. You automatically care about these things.”

“I think you were meant to live in Minnesota,” my friend replied. “It’s so ingrained in you by now.”

It’s true. Not the meant to live here part, since I don’t really believe in meant to’s. But the ingrained in me part…that part is true.

Alexandria is different than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Or maybe it’s me that is different and this is the place I happened to land as this version of myself. But still. Alexandria has a charm about it. It pulls you in.

The 351 lakes in the county make it scenic year round, but the summers…those are something special. There’s an energy here in the summer that is different than the rest of the year. People come from all over to stay in cabins or lake homes and take part in the water activities. The restaurants and bars are filled with an new energy. There’s a general buzz to the area that doesn’t exist at other times during the year. It instills a sense of pride in you, to live in a place others make a point of visiting.

Though the buzz of summer does have a pull to it, I still live for the falls. As the start of school approaches, the visits from out-of-towners die off. A calm sets in and the weather begins to shift, but not enough that it takes away from the enjoyment of being outdoors. Paddleboarding in the fall has a whole different feel than during the summer. The water is stiller, the world more colorful, the sport more solitary. The fall is when the beauty of this area truly sets in for me. It leaves me in awe.

Still, even the winters have a magic to them here. Each year when Broadway is decked out in Christmas lights, the community gathers to watch them be turned on for the first time. If lucky, fluffy, white flakes are falling. Then the lakes begin to freeze over and little ice house villages begin to materialize. The ice rinks are readied and filled with kiddos, even when it’s 0 degrees. People here like winter. We embrace it.

But in addition to the beauty of the area, there is a beauty to the people and the lifestyle. Even before this conversation today, as I drove from my favorite hole-in-the-wall breakfast place to the coffee shop, I was thinking about the comfort of small town living—in particular, the people.

I always run into people I know. But I also always run into the I-know-you-but-I-don’t-know-you type of people. I find comfort in the fact that I can walk into Caribou and see Sunglasses Inside Man perched in his chair. How I can drive down County Road 22 and see Enthusiastic Walking/Waving Man, regardless of the weather. How I can walk into Common Ground Coffee House on a Friday morning and see Hey-I-Like-Your-Writing Man.

The list of people-I-know-but-don’t-know goes on.

And for some reason, those people bring me comfort. I don’t know their real names. I don’t know their stories. But they’re predictable. They remind me that this town is still this town, day after day. When my world feels like it is being rocked, there are constants like these that I need to fall back on, to remind myself I’m still here and the world is still moving.

But I think even more than these things, the reason Alexandria holds such a special place in my heart is because I’ve become an adult here. I’ve paved the way for my own life in this town. I’ve gotten to know people on my own. I’ve grown in my career on my own. I’ve been able to be my own person and prove to myself that that person is enough.

As the tagline states, getting here was easy. Falling in love with Alexandria didn’t take long. I love this town. I love these people. I love this lifestyle.

So I can’t quite figure out why, when I think about living here forever, I panic. As much as I love Alexandria, the thought of staying here, having a family here, growing old here…that all terrifies me. I consider it and I start to feel suffocated. Yet I also can’t imagine leaving this place. It’s unsettling to be pulled in the direction of a life of stability and routine, but also a life of adventure and the unknown. 

So I think for now, I need to just focus on the present. I need to enjoy the fact that this little town brings me great joy. I need to not worry about if it will continue to do so, because right now it does. Daily. Full, pure, uplifting joy. 

It really is easy to get to and hard to leave.

Aerial shots by Tyler Golberg of CYBERsprout

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