CLITHERALL, Minn. – I want to tell you a story. Snuggle in, get your tea or cocoa, and let's begin.

The year was 2002. I was working as a newspaper reporter on Alabama's Gulf Coast. That might sound like paradise, but I ached for Minnesota. There were nights I dreamed about walking out my front door and discovering that snow had fallen overnight. There are no lilacs in Alabama. No maple trees. It's hot there — so hot and humid in the summer, it feels like you're standing in the mouth of a panting giant. I didn't fit in in other ways. People tend to get married young there, so I was an oddball single woman who had just turned 30.

Somehow I convinced my bosses to let me take the entire month of July off so I could travel around Minnesota. And that's what I did — sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. I snapped a photo of the world's largest ear of corn in Olivia, huddled inside the stone bathroom at Blue Mounds State Park during a massive thunderstorm, cleaned up flooded basements in Roseau with a team of teenage volunteers, and startled a moose on the Little Isabella River in the Boundary Waters. (The moose startled me just as much.)

It was a lovely time. So peaceful. Journalism can be a stressful occupation, what with covering fatal accidents and shootings. Spending time in my home state was a balm. It also gave me a chance to reflect on what it meant to turn 30, how I had grown since graduating from the University of Minnesota, and what things about myself I wanted to change.

As my month wound down, I found myself at a scenic overlook at Itasca State Park. It was the kind of spot you can get lost in, in the best possible way, among the old-growth timber and the lake below. For those moments, you exhale the stress, the worries, the fears, the failures, and breathe in the possibilities, the hope, the plans, the pleasures of life.

I wanted to leave something of myself at Itasca. If I wasn't going to be living in Minnesota — or not yet anyway — at least a small part of me would remain.

I plucked a hair from my head and held it up. It fluttered briefly in the breeze and then I let it go. It drifted downhill and settled among the undergrowth.

In a way, it was a bargain with wild Minnesota, as if giving it something of myself would guarantee my return. It felt slightly pagan. Like maybe a goddess was listening. Or a whole Disney-esque menagerie of animals was chattering: "We like her! Let's help her return!"

Now let's fast forward five years.

I was once again living in Minnesota. Not in Plymouth, where I'd grown up, but in Bemidji, where you could see the stars at night. Bemidji had the lake and the Paul Bunyan statue and sculptures on downtown street corners. I made friends with strong, independent women. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged.

It wasn't long before one of my friends introduced me to a funny, handy, handsome man and we started dating.

Over July 4th, we went to Itasca State Park. And you might guess what happened — with the shivering cry of a loon suspended in the air, and a lake beside us, he asked me to marry him.

I hadn't told him about leaving a strand of hair at the park. So much time had passed and so much had happened that I didn't even remember it myself until much later — weeks, or maybe even months. We've been married almost 17 years now. We have an 11-year-old son and live in Otter Tail County, in the home my husband's great-great-grandparents built a century ago.

I'm too logical to believe in magic or spells. But maybe, when you express your deepest wish, you set in motion events that make it come true.

And so it is that I start my column-writing career here at the Star Tribune.

I have been wishing, deeply, for a job where I could write columns, and only columns. I even thought, wistfully, "Wouldn't it be great if the Star Tribune hired a columnist from rural Minnesota?" And when they actually announced that they were seeking such a columnist, I set everything else aside to send in my application.

So here I am! I get to work for the newspaper that I grew up with; my dad would bring it home every day from his job as a tool and die maker, and we six siblings would squabble over the sections, especially the funnies. He and my mom are gone now, but they would be so proud to see their youngest child writing for the Star Tribune.

I don't want to say this story has a happy ending. Because really, it's a happy beginning.

I hope to hear from many of you in greater Minnesota. I'd be happy to share your stories with a statewide audience, because that's what I'm here for, to share the stories of people around the state with the readers of the Star Tribune.

Please, be in touch!