A subversive act? How to appreciate a walk in the middle of the workday
Bob Timmons, Star Tribune
It was a late-February day, in early afternoon, the sky thick and gray, mustering what light it could. And it was cool, made cooler by a dampness that raised the notion of spring but made me second-guess my decision to leave my gloves behind.
Still, it was a good day to be outdoors. It was a good day to simply walk.
At midday on a Wednesday, the act bordered on the subversive in the face of modern life’s frenetic pace and even the other recreational possibilities (I wasn’t fat biking or snowshoeing or running). Before me was an opportunity to detach for a brief time at nature’s pace and bidding. At the trailhead I emptied my mind of to-do lists and thoughts of what awaited me afterward, pointed myself southward, and just walked.
I set foot on the Gateway State Trail, in Grant — new for me, in the sense that for years I’ve only really ever known the state trail by wheel or on the run, its woods and wetlands, its occasional hobby farm and horse trails, always rushing past in the periphery.
Before long, the white noise of traffic dissipated. In the solace and quiet, my mind opened to the moments at hand. I picked up the hint of wind that rustled winter’s holdovers on the oak trees. Then, a large red-tailed hawk sliced overhead, perhaps looking for nest materials. And what of that chickadee that flew up to me oh, so close?
All along, there were hundreds of tracks in what remained of the snow, less solid by the day. Some human, some animal, the tracks stepped this way and that. Fallen leaves made their own impressions, too, like elfen snowshoes had set down. More curious were the tracks on the gray ice of ponds in mid-thaw. Some of the imprints were unrecognizable, or stopped at center ice, or disappeared on a distant shore. There was some story there it seemed. Who or what made some of those? No doubt the answers come at night.
At one of the larger ponds, I followed surface tracks that led up to their owners standing over their tip-ups, no doubt also finding their freedom just like me.
I happened by other walkers, some solo, some in groups walking with a purpose. Regulars at the state’s parks and points on the North Shore, Mike Fuerst and Eileen Kellen were out there, too, but clearly heard a different call. The retired couple from St. Paul stopped, studied, photographed. They looked deeply.
“You never know what you are going to see, and that is the exciting part,” said Minnesota state park naturalist Linda Radimecky, who leads midweek trail walks that include the Gateway. “If you are walking, you do see things that you don’t see on your bike, you don’t see while you are running. … There are mysteries.”
The human encounters, too, shouldn’t be overlooked. “There is a camaraderie among strangers. People show up, and the common goal is to walk and see what’s out there. By the end, you end up chatting with people and having a great time.”
Back on the trail, the occasional power line or highway overpass encroached on my outing, but I felt more detached from the modern world with each step, each bird call, each whisper of red oak leaves in the breeze. The Gateway’s natural world had contained me but for a few hours in nature’s clarifying way that opens us to the bigger reality at work — and our truer selves.
It was a good day to simply walk.
Bob Timmons • 612-673-7899
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