SOME DAYS I WISH I could simply disappear, vanish into the woods or wheel across the prairie like the Ingalls family to an unknown destination. Far from reality. Far from COVID-19.
But, since I must live in the context of a pandemic, in the place I call home, I look for places to escape nearby. And, on a recent Sunday afternoon, Randy and I disappeared into the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield off Minnesota State Highway 3.
In the nearly 40 years we have lived in Rice County, we’ve only stopped here once, many years ago for a family picnic, but never to hike. On this day we followed the rutted gravel road along the river, past a junkyard and into the wilderness parking lot. We walked a short path to the Cannon River, then a longer one along the river to a foot bridge.
To get there, we passed two tents in the primitive camping area. I delighted in watching a young family gathered in the woods near river’s edge, enjoying the outdoors, away from distracting/detracting technology. At the next tent down, I observed a caged dog.
After passing the campers, we spotted a hillside bluff of limestone looming to the side of the trail.
Springs bubbled water across the muddy path partially covered by a thin layer of wood chips. I found myself tensing at the thought of traversing mud. My slip-on shoes, unlike Randy’s treaded boots, offered zero traction. And, with a history of two falls, one on rain-slicked wooden steps that resulted in a broken wrist and subsequent surgery to implant a plate, I felt angst.
But Randy offered his hand to steady me as we walked across mud, atop slippery rocks and balanced on railroad ties. Eventually, we reached the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon.
If anything soothes me, it is water and wind. And, on this early November day, I stood on that wooden bridge, taking in the elements that calm me. River rushing over rocks. Wind roaring through woods.
The sun, too, warming me and casting artsy criss-cross shadows upon the bridge deck.
Then I noticed the trees. Tornado trees, I term them. Two years ago, in September 2018, tornadoes ravaged Rice County, including the 800-acre Cannon River Wilderness Area. Evidence of the storm remains in fallen trees, limbless trees, trees stripped of branches. In the woods. In the river. Along the riverbank. Thoughts of tornadoes invite distress as I recall the 1968 deadly tornado in Tracy, Minnesota, a storm I remember from my childhood in southwestern Minnesota. Some things you never forget.
But for a short time, I forgot about COVID as I immersed myself in the natural world. Even among tornado trees, some of which groaned in the strong wind.
As Randy and I retraced our steps along the muddy path, I focused on getting safely back to the parking lot without falling. But in a single step onto a rounded rock, my shoes slipped and I felt myself falling to the right. Thoughts of another broken bone flashed. As did the likelihood that my camera would be destroyed. Yet, Randy, who had been gripping my hand, caught me, even as he, too, nearly landed in the mud. I felt gratitude for his strength, for his support, for his care. We have traversed many a difficult journey through life. Together. And for that I am grateful, especially during a global pandemic.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling