A parade through the summer months in Minnesota reminds us that the best things in life are usually jewels of nature that are free of charge.

Early evening sunlight on a flower. A sparkling lake amid the northern Minnesota pines. The howling of coyotes at night and the call of the barred owls.

Some flowers like tulips and irises are long gone by July, but they return each year without much effort on our part. Nature on autopilot.

When you come to expect summer greenery like Mankato’s famous hanging flowers in downtown, or its lush gardens along Riverfront Drive, it’s easy to take summer for granted.

The first perfect days of summer allow us to put winter out of our minds. Still, we would do well to look back at the news headlines of winter storms for this past year just to get the right context for the presence of perfect summer days ahead.

It was one of the snowiest winters on record with 96 inches of snow in Mankato for the season through April 14. A Feb. 19 snowstorm that dropped 9 inches of snow on the area broke the February record by about 10 inches totaling out at 36 inches for the month.

Let’s not forget April 12 and 13. Wind gusts of 50 mph, freezing rain and snow cut off thousands of people in Mankato and the surrounding area from power, some for days. Benco Electric saw 200 power poles knocked down. It was snowmageddon.

The people of summer are not to be taken for granted either. Humble gardeners toil near the earth with dirt underneath their fingernails and contentment in their hearts.

Gardeners remind us that we should respect the earth. It was here before us and will be here long after us. We can only honor it by nurturing it with daisies and pansies and sunflowers. Maybe if we had remained an agrarian society full of farmers and gardeners, our environment would have been more respected.

July is a good month to show appreciation for things around us. Our “best of” issue will feature dozens of the best things in Mankato from burgers to beer and from patio dining to a place for a date. The issue is a way to highlight the everyday work of honorable people who serve tasty meals, fix your car or do your nails.

We come to expect their goods and services but don’t often stop to recognize their efforts.

A Fourth of July parade is just another one of those gifts we sometimes take for granted in the summertime. The color guards march by with the flag as we stand and remove our hats, but we don’t think about things like D-Day and Iwo Jima much.

They say a little meditation in the morning can help with depression. One therapist says we ought to consider everyday who and what we are grateful for.

Writing for PsychologyToday.com, Dr. Deborah Serani says gratitude can combat depression. People can practice gratitude by meeting with friends and offering their time, writing someone a note or email about how you’re grateful for them, or writing down three things a week that went well for you.

She writes:

“So, why do these gratitude experiences boost happiness and alleviate depression? Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, elicit a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and build enduring personal connections.”

So what can we do? Bring flowers from your garden into your office. This simple gesture will reap benefits far beyond its inconvenience.

Golf, fish, hike, bike and walk with friends.

Take in the smell of corn dogs and onions and freshly made French fries at a county fair. Enjoy refreshments of cold craft beer or a frozen margaritas on a warm sunny day.

Watch the sunset over a pristine lake or river. Sit in a lawn chair on your porch or in your garage and listen to the quiet of the night.

Robb Murray is the Features Editor for The Free Press. He can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com. Follow Robb on Twitter @FreePressRobb

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