Saturday Single No. 283

When the first European explorers made it to these parts, maybe coming up the Mississippi River, or coming down from Lake Superior, they discovered a forest of maple, oak, basswood and elm that ranged from western Wisconsin across much of southern Minnesota. More dense than the oak savannahs to the east and far more dense than the rolling prairies to the west, the forest was named by those French explorers the Grand Bois – the Big Woods.

(And yes, Charles Ingalls and his family did live in the Big Woods. Their small home was located seven miles north of the city of Pepin, Wisconsin. The site is marked these days by a county wayside and by a replica of the log home where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born and which she made famous through the first of her series of books about pioneer life, Little House in the Big Woods.)

It was the Big Woods on the Minnesota side that was going to be our focus today. About twenty-five miles south of St. Cloud – and not far from Monticello, where I lived for years – lies one of the few remaining stands of the Big Woods, preserved in Lake Maria State Park. During the course of the year, the park attracts campers, hikers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers and snowshoers, all making their ways through the nearly 1,600 acres surrounding Maria Lake, Putnam Lake and Bjorkland Lake.

(I should note here that the name of the lake and the park are pronounced Ma-RYE-a, not Ma-REE-a. Newcomers to the area – and I was one of those in the late 1970s – are generally perplexed by the pronunciation. I imagine we can blame one of the area’s first settlers for naming the lake – possibly sometime in the 1850s – with a non-standard pronunciation.)

Among the programs that the state Department of Natural Resources offers at Lake Maria State Park each year is a maple sugaring demonstration: Hiking into the woods to identify and tap maple trees for their sap followed by a brief demonstration of the long process of boiling the sap down to maple syrup and maple sugar. Those demonstrations are this weekend, and the Texas Gal and I had decided we would head to the park for one of them, if the weather were nice.

Well, it’s 49 degrees Fahrenheit outside (about 9 Celsius), and it’s foggy enough for the National Weather Service to issue an advisory warning. The weather reports say things aren’t going to change much this morning; our drive would be tense and our hike would be damp. We’ll skip the maple tapping. Maybe next year.

So this isn’t quite the post I’d planned to write, but the music will be the same. Because when you get a chance to write about something pronounced Ma-RYE-a, there’s only one song to consider. Here’s soul singer Arthur Conley’s 1970 version of “They Call The Wind Maria” – a tune from the 1951 Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon – and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Note: The video has a date of 1969 for the track, but Soulful Kinda Music says the track was the B-Side to “Hurt” on Atco 6733 and came out in 1970, so I’m going with that date.

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