Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery
112 3rd Street West
Park Rapids, MN 56470
Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery is located in a charming brick building in Downtown Park Rapids, Minnesota. Park Rapids, if you do not know, is a little town near Itasca State Park that boasts a few blocks of tourist-friendly shopping as well as an old-school movie theater and the MinneSoda Fountain, a 50’s style ice cream parlor.
Beagle and Wolf sits on 3rd, just off Main Street, tucked away all subtle-like beside a little coffee joint. I might have missed it were it not for my mother taking me by the arm and pointing to the “BOOKS” sign. “You need to go in there. You’ll love it.”
My mom knows Downtown Park Rapids very well now that she and my dad are retired and spend every August in Northern Minnesota. I know it fairly well myself, as my family has been going to the nearby Jolly Fisherman Resort once every two years for decades. That kind of consistency makes you think a place belongs to you, even if it’s thousands of miles away and changes without your vote. This has been my experience with Park Rapids and more so with the Jolly Fisherman. When I was a child, we’d pull up to Cabin 9 and I’d tumble out of the van, the smell of pine and lake water as familiar and evocative to me as the smell of Kraft macaroni and cheese. The metallic groan of the cabin’s screen door, the mossy edges of the dock, the sounds of my great aunts’ voices as they debated where to store the gallon-sized cans of chocolate pudding they’d brought. (Why we no longer bring such cans, I do not know.)
I remember one year — I was 7? 9? 11? — I stood in the living room of Cabin 9, with its big picture window overlooking the lake. It didn’t feel like a vacation, this place. It felt fuller than that. My dad turned to my aunt or my uncle or maybe my mom and said, “Feels like coming home, doesn’t it?”
That was it. Home. Calling Minnesota “home” felt like poetry to me at the time, somehow pinpointing the truth by defying the very rules of a word’s meaning. I was a lucky kid in that everything that was “home” to me had always been under one roof. My family, my bedroom, my books, my memories, me. To think of any place other than that address as “home” was to discover a powerful new way of describing the contents of my heart . . . of defining myself, in a way.
By now, I call a few different places home, either on purpose or by accident. Places I’ve lived, places that changed me, places I think of when the weather changes. Even when we’re out shopping in Park Rapids, I ask my mom what time we have to be “home” for dinner, and this is sometimes by accident, and sometimes intentional, just to hear myself say “home” in connection to pines and tiny snail shells and the haunting wail of loons trying to find their way back to one another.
The difference between Minnesota and every other “home” I’ve known is that I only have one fleeting week every two years to take in the feel of the place and try to imprint it in my soul. In fact, I’ve begun to tackle our biannual Park Rapids Shopping Day with this fantasy that I’ll find The Thing that will help me hang onto the lake in some way, some touchstone I can keep in L.A. and refer back to when I need to remember what it feels like to be in a place where you have to bunji your trashcans shut so the dumpster-divers of the animal kingdom stay out of your business.
Mostly I attempt this with locally made pottery. I’ve also reached an age where I finally understand why every woman in my family has at least one item of loon-themed decor in every room. Did you know you can get a loon in doorstop form? You really, really can.
But Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery was a revelation. I’m not going to make a big production about how I feel about bookstores because I’ve already done that, and it gets exhausting to listen to writers talk like they’re the first and last people on earth to love books. So I’ll skip the bit about the great selection (true) and unpretentiously bookish atmosphere (also true) and talk about what I love most about this little bookshop.
As I flipped through the most prominently displayed books throughout the store, I discovered a recurring theme.
” . . . this coming-of-age story set in rural Minnesota . . .”
” . . . Minneapolis-based poet . . .”
” . . . Norweigian folklore . . .”
” . . . voice of the Midwest . . .”
“. . . member of the Bois Forte band of Ojibwe . . .”
Beagle and Wolf is a store that centers local voices, local heritage, and local stories. They do display the national bestsellers, but theirs is the first bookstore I’ve been to in a while where I didn’t trip over Little Fires Everywhere immediately upon entering. Instead, I discovered an extensive display of Midwestern authors and a table promoting upcoming author events (they have a shocking number of these). Beagle and Wolf also has a hard-to-miss section of Scandinavian heritage and shelves of Native American literature.
As a writer, it’s always meaningful to me to see authors receive support at the local level, because art is hard. It’s hard to get strangers to believe in you or care that you’re trying to say something. To have the support of your local community is to know that — whatever becomes of your work in the world beyond — you and your voice have a home here.
But this is not what I was thinking about as I scanned the shelves. I was thinking about how in three days I’d be leaving Minnesota. How I was bound to forget (again) the relentless density of the forest lining the road to the lake. Forget the way the air changes when a thunder storm is rolling in. Forget that there is a place where I can leap into deep, green water, never flinching over the unseen fish that brushes my ankle, because I know that fish, and I know this green water.
And if I trust any object in this world to keep me from forgetting, it’s a book.
For me, discovering Beagle and Wolf meant finding a way to maintain some small claim on Minnesota . . . to take a piece of one home and bring it back with me to another . . . to have the things that define me under one roof.
Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery offers bindery services (as one might guess) in addition to books. Check out their website for regular updates to their newsletter, store events, staff picks, and book groups. The website also claims there is a store dog named Tripod. I did not encounter Tripod on my visit. If you do, report back immediately, preferably with photos.