Art of the State Parks

audio narrative: Afton on the Stay-at-Home-Order

Finally I saw that worrying came to nothing. And gave up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.

Mary Oliver
Afton State Park before the shut down

last years oak leaves make a wonderful crunch as I walk

I gather speed as my car swoops down a winding roller-coaster of road. The posted speed is 25, but she lunges forward, whining after I downshift all the way to the bottom until leveling out, then slowing to a creep, back up the other side. I pass a curtain of silvery birch. Snow blankets the slopes to my left, the chairlift is still now. Oak Savannah on my right, is crispy brown and dry.

This is Afton State Park. It shares a name with the quaint village nearby which took its name from Robert Burns, “Sweet Afton.” Fields roll toward vistas, three hundred feet above the Saint Croix River, Minnesota and Wisconsin’s natural border. Afton is home to gold medal winning crosscountry skier Jessie Diggans, and the grandly named Afton Alps, the largest ski area in the Twin Cities.

We’ve been told by our governor to stay home – but not stay indoors necessarily, urged to get outside while still keeping our six-foot distance. The parking lot is full and people walk in small clumps, crunching through last year’s leaves. An ice island of phantom ski tracks and long-healed thunderbolt-shaped cracks is filled with migratory birds. The crackly noisemaker call of sandhill cranes competes with a neighbor’s revving engine.

Art of the State Parks

audio narrative: Walk in the Time of Coronavirus

But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations.

 Gwyn Thomas

Oak leaves seem to float atop melting ice.

an early March walk at Lake Maria State Park

For many of us, early March was “before” and now we reside in “after,” or perhaps more accurately, “during.” It’s hard to remember so many freedoms we enjoyed only a few weeks ago. And I don’t speak simply to being able to come and go as we please, congregate and share activities without a thought, or that our lives had some semblance of stability.

What I refer to is the loss of our dreams, ones we could plan for and bring to life, ones that sustained our hard work and focus, ones that made life rich and worth sacrificing for.

Now, we isolate and we wait.

Believe me, I am committed to what it takes for our common welfare, but I wonder if we’ll lose something from this time. If that’s hubris, then ok. If it’s hope, I’m heartbroken.

Art of the State Parks

spring song

The volume’s turned up at William O’Brien as I take a half-day’s walk on muddy trails, ears open to the music of early spring. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers’ rat-a-tat competes with the vibra-slap trill of the redwing blackbird. Ratcheting turkeys interject mirth in between chickadees’ mournful insistence. Wind-up toy robins, two-toned honking geese, a gold finch gushing a string of ‘tweety-bird’ before alighting on a C-shaped roller coaster, riding an invisible air-track. At a flooded stream, a warbler checks me out, coming close on hopping feet before darting out of sight behind a drooping willow.