Foggy November morning hike with Crystal. We rushed out to shoot before the fog lifted, were done before Adam woke to notice I was gone. Messing with focus, contending with steamy glasses and water on the lens, all the while wandering around in a riverbed raincloud. A quick stop at a Building For Lease, because buildings.
Oh, and for the record, thanks to the Quotidian Diarist who inspired me to blur my vision on purpose.
Ivan’s friend Charles joined us for a hike at the perennially satisfying Crosby Farm Preserve along the Mississippi River. How could one not feel a lightness of heart watching them amble along the beaches, skipping stones, climbing the great fallen tree trunks and seeking out “huge weird giant fish” beneath the boardwalks that jut through the marshes.
Adam found this poem by Raymond Carver that captures their spirit.
So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper. They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this. Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.
While staying with my cousin James and his lovely family, we declared that since it was Sunday, we had to go for a hike. It was the last day of our vacation, we were meant to fly out that night and it was predicted to hover near 100 or above all day. For these reasons we decided not to go to Red Rocks just outside of town, but rather for a more leisurely stroll around Tule Springs Ranch, a park constructed around a former “Divorce Ranch.”
Fro the 30’s until the 1950’s you could only get quick and easy divorces in certain states, and the ever enterprising Nevada was one of them. But, of-course, you had to establish residency, which took six weks. During that time, women would sometimes stay at a Divorce Ranch. You can read all about the craziness in this article at Slate, but the gist was: “… a typical day at a divorce ranch might have looked like this: horseback riding in the morning, an after-lunch trip into town for shopping or a visit with a lawyer, and then, in the evening, cocktails, communal dinner, and another car trip to a bar or a casino, where the ladies would dance and drink and gamble.”
People, I have gotten a divorce and I say “hells yes!” to the divorce ranch. Six weeks to cool my heels, ride horses, drink, gamble, and perhaps have a dalliance with a handsome cowboy, that would have really eased the transition I think.
In any case, the grounds were lovely, Ivan chased Peacocks and collected feathers, the kids played with their kid-cousins and we all got pretty hot under the Nevada sun. We followed it up with a walk around a bird and animal sanctuary, and then quickly sought out air conditioning and shade.
We drove up from Vegas as if we were fleeing the city. We were, in fact, escaping the buffet of desperate folly at the center of the city. It took us hours to get out of town: stops to buy a cooler, to get groceries, pump gas, eat bagels. It was endless, and as we turned, finally, onto Hwy 15 North, we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
We had flown into Vegas because it is relatively cheap. We were interested in accessing the Grand Staircase, as they call it, in Southern Utah – a patchwork of national parks that protects nearly half the state from private use. Now, after a one-day recoup in Vegas, we were headed towards what we came for – whatever it might look like. We had a room booked in St. George, a sleepy retirement town that the guidebook had described as “a good jumping off point for Zion”. The rates were good and there was a pool. It looked as if we might make it there by three o-clock check in.
Adam and I were in a state of perpetual wonder, yelling, “look out the window!” to the backseat every ten minutes. Then we realized if we rolled down the window, suddenly, it scared them into attention. The mountains at first were distant, a muddy red, and the landscape was definitely desert. Cacti we wanted to believe were Joshua Trees sprang up out of the dust. There were sad looking casinos at random intervals, and then, briefly, we were in Arizona and we began to climb, and wind our way through the Virgin River Gorge. It’s a spectacular 20 mile drive carved through striated cliffs that is allegedly one of the most expensive highway projects ever completed. You begin to see the first hints of the Utah sandstone, and the cracked monumental stone that typifies Zion. It’s the place where the topology of the Mojave gives way to the insanity of the Colorado Plateau.
When we arrived in St George, there was a race finish line set up in our hotel’s carport. It was the finish of a 400 mile bike ride. While I found this at least a little intimidating, I also thought it a bit crazy, a bit excessive. We were pleased to see a quartet of German tourists outfitted with Harleys, in full leathers, bandanas and Harley Davidson t-shirts also staying at our hotel. We unpacked and I exiled the children to wander the hotel while Adam and I napped. It was too late, we decided, to make it to Zion, but it was a Sunday, and we would hike, dammit.
The author of our guidebook harbored intense disdain for St. George, saying, “to find anything that might interest you, you have to leave St. George and head 20 miles northwest to Snow Canyon Sate Park”. Well, good.
We paid for a day pass and collected a trail map. The very first trailhead promised a short hike ending in a small slot canyon, Jenny’s Canyon, it turned out. Taking our first steps into the fine red sand of the Utah desert was a queer thing. Such a different terrain than we had grown accustomed to. And rather than a trail winding through a corridor of trees, the desert and the sky spread out on all sides, giving you an unobstructed view of the horizon line nearly all the time. Ivan stopped to sift the sand through his fingers, and Veronica walked confidently ahead of the us, undaunted. How wonderfully bold children are. I was unnerved by the landscape, and overly-awed by the orange of the rock, the blue of the sky, the dryness of the air. I took photos and ambled along.
The slot canyon was cool inside, and had good outcroppings for climbing. We also found a good spot to shout and hear our voices echo off the walls of the cliffs. After messing around for a while, we headed back to the car. We drove another mile or so to a trailhead marked Petrified Sand Dunes. And so they were. The rich red sand Ivan had let run through his fingers was here frozen into rolling mounds of variegated rock. A short trail led into the slick rock where you could easily climb, and scramble if necessary, as far as the eye could see. Eventually, we crossed a rise with a small, steep canyon on the backside. The sun was setting, and the wind was arid and steady. The only family we had passed in the parking area were out of sight, so we were quite alone up there. Adam sat to meditate, and so we sat, Veronica and Ivan and I, looking down on the canyon filled with sage and Juniper trees. A blue scrub jay swooped into the canyon and disappeared amongst the trees. It took my breath away. I put my arms around the children and hoped they would remember this moment. It’s rare, but I felt for a moment, in bringing them to a place of such rare and splendid beauty, like a good mom. It was my favorite Sunday hike so far.
Isn’t this map beautiful though? I love the gentle dip and curve of the river, coursing through the grid of streets. The same area is mapped in below, in a 1906 map from The New Encyclopedic Atlas and Gazetteer of the World. And again in this beautiful commissioned watercolor map done by John Jager for the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company in 1904. Finally, this map shows the area from quite a different angle. The image is from a flyby, a visual representation “as seen by the Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) instrument. The shortwave infrared (TM band 5), infrared (TM band 4), and visible green (TM band 2) channels are displayed in the images as red, green, and blue respectively. In this combination, barren and/or recently cultivated land appears red to pink, vegetation appears green, water is dark blue, and artificial structures of concrete and asphalt appear dark grey or black.” There is the video from which this is taken. It’s fascinating. Thanks NASA, you’re rad.
Hiking each week is easy, relative to writing about the hike. Hence the great delay.
We drove to River Falls to pick up an old friend of Adam’s, a fellow Buddhist, and he took us on a hike in the dense and mostly deciduous woods that hug the banks of the Kinnickinnic River. The woods are, as woods go, unremarkable. But that name! The rhythmic clack of it: Kinnickinnic, Kinnickinnic, Kinnickinnic. Like a train.
The walk itself was trying, for the kids and I. The trail was hilly. It spilled downhill to the muddy banks of the river, which smelled cool and sparkled in dappled sunlight, then wound back up into the still, humid green of the forest. And the it did that again.
Adam and his friend strode ahead. The kids grew weary, and so did I. The trail was narrow, and the woods were close, and it was all quite sticky. But we were good humored enough about it. We came to a clearing at the top of one hill, and the path opened up to a park. As we rounded a corner, Adam was hugging his friend, smiling, and saying how glad he was of something or another. I didn’t want to eavesdrop. But the hug and the gladness both being achieved, I took that as a signal to loop back to the car.
We dropped Adam’s friend back at his house, and had lunch at a small diner in downtown River Falls. We learned that truly, one man’s taco salad is another man’s nachos. Sated, we drove on to Menomonie, Wisconsin. (another good name) One of my oldest friends, Sarah, lives there with her family, in an idyllic farmhouse on a bucolic piece of land that that backs up to a river. We celebrated her son Rowan’s tenth birthday, and he opened our gift to him, which was cake tips and pastry bags, and we ate Sarah’s amazing food, and cheesecake, and went for a short walk down the road with the dogs. We left the kids with them, they were having a summer visit for a few days, leaving Adam and I to drive alone, westward in the fading light. Spent, we listened to poetry and spoke little.
Well, to my mind, I’ve uncovered the reason for Eagan’s existence. It’s to house this lovely park with it’s many lakes, trails, trees, mushrooms and animals. Everything you want from a pile of nature just a twenty minute drive from the city – it’s all easily accessible on the gentle, rolling trails of Lebanon Hills. We just scratched the surface, covering about three miles via the Jensen Lake Trailhead. The trails are well marked and you are presented with options to explore, all primarily lush, shady and easy to navigate. I can hardly wait to go back in the fall when the colors are changing.
The kids bobbed along the trail with their umbrellas up, snagging on low branches and careening into each other, blocking the steady stream of hikers headed down the trail. We were headed INTO the forest, along the river, while everyone was clearly headed out. As we reached a clearing at the top of a hill, where the trail runs next to the road for a bit, the rain began to pour in earnest – large drops with impressive velocity. Adam called my name, and as I turned to see him gripping both sides of his hat with his hands and squinting through sheets of rain, he shouted, “I think it’s time to pack it in!” I felt sort of inclined to keep going, sort of compelled to go crazy, but you have to know when you’re beat. So we turned heel and marched back down the trail to the car.
Since we were in the area, we hopped over to Wisconsin to visit Saint Croix Falls, and one of my favorite places, Red Bird Music, a musty basement cave of a place with a modest supply of overpriced (but often great) vinyl, and a fine variety of string instruments. The place is crowded with potted plants, art, flyers of long past shows, and 1970’s audio equipment. Ivan and Adam played every instrument in the store, while Veronica and I idly flipped through records. A gray cat with some kind of thinning hair affliction rested on top of the records. The owner of the store is catlike in that he is quiet, nearly invisible, and while he does not mind your presence, it is definitely not required, maybe not even preferred.
Still soggy, we headed to the car, and back to the Minnesota side of the river. As we turned south onto highway 95, Ivan spotted the sign to Franconia and shouted “FRANCONIA!!”, and Adam turned to me shrugging his shoulders, and I shrugged mine, and we turned into the gravel parking lot. Franconia is a 25-acre sculpture park with an ever-evolving collection of large-scale sculpture in a wide variety of mediums. It is also one of my favorite places. It’s audacious in it’s scope and vision. The art itself is at turns beautiful, funny, absurd, haunting, monstrous and confounding. The kids ran straight to the jungle gym, and I took a picture of a young couple. We didn’t stay long, didn’t even walk all the way around the park, with Ivan riding piggy-back on Veronica, we headed back home.
On the way back to Saint Paul as I was nodding off to sleep, I felt Adam’s warm hand on my knee, and opened my eyes to look at him. He wore the look of tired, true love. I smiled at him and closed my eyes. One of the reasons we decided to hike each week was to prepare for a week-long vacation in the Southwest at the end of summer. And this day with its idle time-killing, ambling observation and dashed expectations – to be smiling at the end of this day is, as the Chinese say, auspicious.
Just before it started to rain.
A sinister duo.
Ivan and I got a little climbing in, here we’re on a rock cliff above the trail.
Adam had assumed we weren’t going to go on our Sunday hike, as the kids were at their dad’s house. “You’re going!” I barked on Saturday night, “That’s the whole point! 52 hikes! We have to go!!” Still I was surprised when I asked him what his plans for the day were, and our hike was on the docket. It was sunny and steamy out, and we both had long to-do lists in the wings. In deference to these factors I chose a “hike” close by, a five-minute drive to a trail in Dale Villa Park that begins behind a supper club and winds its way towards Lake McCarrons, a little known urban lake in Saint Paul.
The trailhead behind the supper club, with its sign for BOOYA leaned up against the back wall, should have been warning enough. And as we descended the paved trail into the woods, the fetid smell of rotting vegetation should also have caused me to turn around. But once we were level with the slew, the scent receded. And we breathed through our mouths. I was optimistic as we walked through the vaulted tunnel of tall oaks.
And then, it was over. The trail dumped us into a residential cul-de-sac, with an overlook which looked over the algae covered source of stink. It seemed to me we had only walked about 10 minutes. And though you might think that reaching the end of this not-so-great trail might have been a relief, I was disappointed. Because whatever it was I needed from a hike that day, I had not gotten it. Meanwhile Adam was enjoying the scenery and talking to me about the difficulty of reconciling the passionate spiritual engagement of theism with the detachment of non-theistic religions or atheism.
We decided to follow an asphalt path that circles Lake McCarrons, and allows you to look at the driveways and garages of large houses. The path leads you up a large hill. While trudging up the hill you might become crabby. Because the hippie insect spray and your sweat might be forming an amphibious film on your face and arms. Also, you might grow weary of existential conversation at this time. Next you might start walking about 5 steps ahead of your boyfriend, in classic pissed-off-bitch style. At least that’s what I did.
We walked past the Roseville Armory and many varieties of backyard fences to a major intersection which turned out to be Rice Street, which I found extremely depressing, as it epitomizes vulgar urban claptrap, especially at it’s north end. I turned walked quickly back towards the trail, Adam following, both of us knowing that silence was our friend. The only good thing that happened was meeting a very beautiful white Pyrenees Mountain Dog named Titan, who looked hotter than me.
I don’t even have a photo, so filled with ire I was. Adam said he found the trail “delightful” and that he loved knowing about little urban “secret gardens”, which made me hate the trail more. It almost prompted me to say something like Sorry Adam. Next Sunday will be better.