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Your new neighbor is seeking refuge from wildfires

Mary Hickerson left behind California’s high costs and high flames

By Fiona Edberg - Staff Writer | Sep 12, 2021

One of Mary Hickerson’s favorite parts of her Blue Earth home is its garden, the likes of which she was unable to maintain in California. Here, she enjoys the garden with her Maltese Highland terrier mix, Leonardo.

From the mountain peaks of the California coast to the rolling hills of southern Minnesota, new neighbor Mary Hickerson quite literally relocated to the Midwest for a breath of fresh air.

What is your name?

“Mary Hickerson.”

Will you share your age?

“I’m 63,” says Mary. “Or, 29 several times.”

Where are you from?

“I was originally born in Marin County, California,” Mary answers. “The town I lived in was Fairfax.”

She continues, “I lived there basically until Blake (Lawton) and I bought a house in Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. And that was nice. We lived there for seven years.”

Mary adds, “From there we went to Placerville, California, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.”

“It was an old gold rush area,” Mary explains. “The property was an old gold mine.” She and Blake, her partner, lived there for a little over 15 years.

How would you describe that place in three words?

“Hot, hot, hot!” Mary says at first, of Placerville.

She then amends her answer. “Hot, dry, and smoky,” she decides.

Why did you leave?

“For several reasons,” Mary admits. “We had a great property in Placerville; nine acres in the country.”

“The way the housing market fell apart in 2007, we ended up having more of a mortgage than we planned,” Mary explains. “We were on a fixed income.”

It was not merely finances, but also flames that drove Mary and Blake to relocate.

“We just lived in fear,” says Mary of the infamous California wildfires. “You just can’t breathe in the summer.”

Mary adds, “I had good friends who lived eight miles from me, and were mandatorily evacuated during the Caldor fire.”

Mary had trouble enjoying some of her favorite hobbies, as well.

“We like to garden,” she shares, “and when it’s that dry, you feel guilty using water.”

“Gardening here is great,” Mary adds.

How did you find Blue Earth?

“I have a son and grandkids in the Cities,” Mary explains. “We didn’t want to live in the Cities, though. We were looking at a rural property, but we were priced out.” Mary and Blake began to look elsewhere, and happened upon Blue Earth while conducting online searches for real estate.

“It came down to if we wanted a rural, run-down property, or a beautiful house,” Mary says. She and Blake chose the beautiful house. And their spacious Blue Earth home, originally built in the 1800s, is indeed that.

“It’s very nice,” says Mary of Blue Earth. “People take care of their property.”

She adds, “People are nice as well. There has been some curiosity, but what is nice is people aren’t in your face.”

Mary continues, “The way I was raised, you don’t ask about politics and money. Where we come from, people were in your face about that. Here, people just treat you as a person, not as your political party or how much money you make.”

Who did you bring with you?

“My dog, Leonardo, and my partner, Blake Lawton.”

Leonardo, a Maltese Highland terrier mix, was present, and vigilant, on Mary’s lap throughout the whole interview.

“His personality is definitely terrier,” Mary says.

How would you describe Blue Earth in three words?

“Sweet little town,” Mary answers. “It’s everything you could hope for a little town.”

What do you like to do in Blue Earth?

“We do walk a lot,” Mary shares. “On walks I like to look at people’s gardens.”

Mary also enjoys collecting seeds, which she hopes to use as she continues to study the area’s wildflowers.

What do you like to do no matter where you are?

“I own a small business,” Mary says. Her business, Honey Hills Farm, offers a line of handcrafted goat milk skincare products.

When asked how the business came about, Mary explains, “We always wanted goats. Our daughter was living with us, and made a call. Then she said, ‘The goats are coming tomorrow.'”

“The most we had was about 20,” Mary adds.

Mary spent some time honing the purpose of her small goat herd.

“I always thought I’d make soap,” Mary says. “But, I was buying skin serum at $125 for one ounce, and I figured out how to make it for $30 for two ounces.”

“It took years to perfect the recipe,” Mary continues. Now, however, she has a wide range of skincare products, from hand and body creams to lotions to face and eye creams to foot balms.

Are there any skin products you hope to experiment with in the future?

“I’ve got enough on my plate,” Mary admits. “I have to update my website to show that I’m not in the Sierra-Nevada foothills anymore.”

Mary is also interested in finding local venues in which to sell her products.

“My other goal is finding my market here and how to sell here,” Mary explains.

What is the biggest difference you have observed between the culture in California and Midwestern culture? 

“One thing that we have that is part of the culture is the mountains and the ocean,” Mary says. “It’s burnt now, but people would spend a lot of time exploring those areas.”

“But, people do that here, too,” Mary adds.

How did you feel about your first winter in the Midwest?

“We came three days before Christmas, and the first blizzard of the year hit the next day,” Mary shares. “It was okay, until the heater went off at seven o’clock at night.”

“The heating company said the vents were probably covered in snow. We were like, “Oh no,“ but it was fine,” Mary laughs.

What is something about you that would surprise people? 

“I have a trophy for whistling. It’s power whistling, not melody whistling,” Mary clarifies.

How do you hope to surprise yourself in the future? 

“By finding new hobbies to get me through the winter,” Mary answers. “I hope the winter will make me surprise myself with my ability to entertain myself.”

Mary plans to try snowshoeing and playing the ukulele when colder temperatures descend.

Do you see a future for yourself in Blue Earth?

“Oh yes, I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Mary says. “We’ve committed ourselves.”

Mary continues, “It’s more affordable here, and that makes our lives easier.”

Are you a Jolly Green Giant or a Sprout?

“Even though I have the confidence in myself to be the big guy, I prefer the look of the little Sprout,” Mary says.

What is your favorite green vegetable? 

“I like kale,” Mary answers.

She loves to cook it with spinach, sauteed in olive oil with garlic and a little lemon.

What is your favorite thing to eat that is not a vegetable?

“The way I’m eating right now, my go-to is shrimp,” Mary says.

What are you drinking today?

“Just water, but I go from hot tea to iced tea, with water in between,” Mary shares.

She admits the coming of the winter may necessitate a switch to solely hot tea, however.