If the world is a fair place…

If the world is a fair place…, Raqs Media Collective, 2015

Yesterday, we walked in Laumeier Sculpture Park, a county park with an artistic bent. We had just parked the car and were about to embark upon the park’s Art Hike Trail, when an older woman asked Anne, if she felt safe walking in the woods by herself. I should point out that I was standing next to my wife at the time. Maybe half sensing my presence the woman asked again, you have walked in there alone? Anne answered in the affirmative as much to answer the woman’s implied challenge as to answer her question. The woman had two dogs with her on leashes, one small and the other medium sized. She said that she had had a large dog and when she had that dog with her, she had felt safe while walking alone in the woods and wished that she could do it again. Anne again reassured the older woman that she would be fine and we bade her farewell.

23 Hour Surveillance

Almost as soon as we had entered the woods, we came upon this sign. It was so banal in appearance that I had to give it a double take. We tried to rationalize the missing hour, before deciding that it was a joke, but it segued so well from our earlier conversation that it seemed almost prescient. This art trail follows for less than a mile, a spring fed stream that in wetter times flows through about a third of the park’s acreage. We had last walked in March, just as the pandemic was reaching its first crescendo. I remember that as a scary time then, especially while walking in these woods, with its narrow path that did not permit six feet separations. There were few people in the woods then, the fewer the better, if you ask me, but every new individual or party entailed a dance of avoidance.

Since then, the county has embarked upon a trail improvement project that has widened the trail enough to drive their dump trucks up and down it and pave it with crushed limestone. Unfortunately, they are only about halfway done and when we reached their barricade, we had to turnaround. Still, it already looks way more Covid safe than the way it was, but I don’t believe that the virus was the source of that woman’s fears. The park is located in one of the tonier parts of the county, certainly not a bad neighborhood. While most people keep to the park’s central lawn that runs the park’s length, there were plenty of people about.

The sculpture park is primarily outdoors, but does include a museum that is now temporarily closed. This museum is housed in an 1816 mansion, making it one of the oldest buildings in the county. One of the newer art installations in the park is a collection of forty laser cut stainless-steel bands encircling tree trunks along the art trail. These bands write out responses to the sentence, “If the world is a fair place…” that were crowd sourced and range from the deliciously innocent, “then free ice cream for kids,” to the cynical “then I’m shocked,” to the surreal, “then all coins will dance.” Reading them as they curve around their tree can prove difficult and often entails scrambling into the bush.

Crickets

Autumn Grasshopper

We have successfully transitioned from the dog days of August to more halcyon days. Summer’s heat and humidity have left us, hopefully for good and left us with temperate days and cool nights. Sometimes these nights are not so cool that a window or two can be left open. On those nights our city soundscape is filled with the sound of crickets. The hum of airconditioners—crickets. Highway 40’s traffic noise—crickets. The endless loop of thoughts that twirl in my head, before I mange to drift off to sleep—crickets. Locally, nights like these are called good sleeping weather. Anne calls cool nights like these, cabin weather.

Although our 10-day forecast shows this pleasant weather pattern continuing unabated, it cannot go on forever. Today marks the equinox, leading to our eventual fall into cold and darkness, but hey, let’s make merry and light, for who knows what tomorrow may bring? The fable of the grasshopper and the ant is a cautionary tale about adopting this kind of attitude, but apparently this story has a B-side. In this version, instead of praising the ant’s industriousness and decrying the idleness of the grasshopper, the ant is painted as the stingy villain and the grasshopper as the sympathetic hero. Whichever version you choose though, neither of them end all that well for the grasshopper.

Yesterday, Anne and I drove out forty-four to the Shaw Nature Reserve. This place was originally envisioned by the botanical gardens as a refuge from the coal fired pollution that had been plaguing the garden in the city. Improving air conditions alleviated the need for a country nursery and the nature reserve was re-envisioned as an entity of its own. Much larger than the main garden, it offers miles of trails to roam. We had not been there is almost a year. It has been eight months since we’ve even visited the city garden. Being larger and less popular, Shaw seemed like a safer bet. With e-tickets in hand, we checked it out. When we parked, there was only one other car in the main parking lot.

Arriving mid-morning, it wasn’t until the afternoon that we began to see other people. In the morning, it was still quite cool and the crickets and cicada were still relatively mute. Whenever we stopped and the noise of our footsteps fell silent, there was an eerie quiet in the woods. Much of the grounds are devoted to a tall grass prairie, representing what much of this area looked like before it was settled. In this sea of grass the paths are as wide as a car lane, yet still stalks of grass can bow in and touch similar stalks from the other side. The grass is so tall that you cannot see over it, leading to an almost tunnel like effect. Roll to save!

We did see some wildlife. Tons of butterflies and locust would dart out of our way. We heard more often than saw the Red-headed woodpeckers that are indigenous. We saw a deer, but the find of the day was a Yellow-billed cuckoo.