Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

A Lifetime Full of Good Memories at the Garden and in Wirth Park

by William W. Toivonen

Bill Toivonen
Bill Toivonen. When this article was originally published in The Fringed Gentian™, 2005 Vol. 53 #1, Bill was 94 years old. He is a native of Minneapolis who has enjoyed the Garden since childhood. He is a member of the Friends and lives in nearby Bryn Mawr.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary has been in walking distance for most of my life. I attended Bryn Mawr School through the 8th grade. The park has had so much to enjoy, as it has today.

I could ski right from my home to this winter wonderland. Before fences, we could pick out the terrain that suited us, cross country or ski jumping. We would make log jumps on the steep hills. We even had our own names for different hills - Breakers Point, happy-go-lucky or Death Valley. In the summer we had so much area to explore.

Now I wait until April first to see the early bloomers and to watch the succession of plants and flowers to take their turn to show their finery. In my senior years I have gotten to know most of the benches and their vantage points. It’s fun to see the steady stream of visitors of all ages. Children are always leading the way to be the first to discover something new.

From the sea of golden blossoms to the upland area there is so much to enjoy. We are so grateful for the far-sighted people who set apart areas for our parks and for the people who now nurture them.

Below: Perched beside a cookstove on a picnic table in Worth Park near the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, Bill Toivonen (in this undated photo taken many years ago) readies for one of the countless family picnics. “In fact,” he said, “in the middle of one winter we set up a card table and four chairs and had a full meal in Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.”

Bill Toivonen in earlier years

Update Note: On October 13, 2011, Bill Toivonen celebrated his 100th birthday. About 60 family and friends gathered at the Ridgedale YMCA for a morning celebration. Some additional information on Bill's life was presented and you can read some of that in this pdf file. Bill Toivonen lived his entire life in Minneapolis, joined the Friends in 2004 and remained a member until he passed away on July 18 2014.

In the Spirit of Walden

by Bill Toivonen

Bill Toivonen at Eloise Butler
Hiking the trails of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden on opening day (April 1, 2006) was 95-year old Bill Toivonen. Due to arthritis, Bill finds it useful to use trekking poles that aid him as he courses the hills and valleys of the Garden. Among his interests is watching birds. "I have taken ornithology classes at the 'U' and the Garden was a must for our field trips," he said.

Henry David Thoreau, poet-naturalist, visited Minnesota in 1861. He was in search of a better climate for his rapidly failing health. Red Wing and Fort Snelling were among places he was said to have spent time, and it is quite uncertain whether he reached the wooded hills and bogs of Minneapolis and what was later to become Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.

If Thoreau would have somehow visited our Eloise Butler site he would have found it much like his beloved Walden. A small bit of paradise, amphitheater shaped, heavily forested and teaming with nature’s wonders.

Thoreau spent 26 moths at Walden in a cabin he built on a hillside. He enjoyed solitude and simplicity at his rustic home. It was here that he wrote his final draft of “Walden, or Life in the Woods.” It proved to be one of the most influential and popular books written in America.

Walden is an autobiography, a venture in philosophy, a book about nature, and a good work of literature. It is internationally accepted as a classic. His Harvard influence does show up in the book, but the second part of the title, “Life in the Woods,” shows where his heart was.

“I was rich, if not in money; in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly. I do not regret that I didn’t waste more of them in the workshop or at the teacher’s desk.”

Although the closest house to his cabin was a mile away, he feared encroachment. The newly-built railroad from Boston to Fitchburg ran by his Walden Pond. “Woodchoppers have laid bare much area to supply ties and telegraph poles.” That devilish iron horse was his lament.

Birch Pond
Birch pond, which extends eastward from Theodore Wirth Parkway to Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, may bear a certain resemblance to Thoreau’s Walden Pond, and the precious woodland of the Garden and surrounding preserve are not totally dissimilar from the New England landscape Thoreau so loved.

What if Thoreau had built a cabin where our hut is and written a book? Lots of inspiration! Tyrol Hills and valleys to the west, lakes nearby, the bog, free-running springs, forest. What a palette for this artist of words.

So here I’m sitting on a vantage view bench just off the lower trail. I see a silhouette of trees, am surrounded by nature, embraced by solitude, enriched by a sea of marsh marigolds - musing, musing, musing.

This article was originally published in The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 54, #2