Riding Through Woods on a Snowy Evening

There were no mountains in that place, no waterfalls, no rocky gorges, no vistas. It was a country of low hills, cut over woods, scoured fields, villages that had lost their purpose, roads that had lost their way.                        -Kathleen Norris

 My grandpa bought the 160 acres behind my parents’ farmhouse so that when he came in the November he could hunt turkeys and shoot trophy bucks. But most of the year the land sits quiet under snow drifts. Subdued and still.

Much of it consists of thin woods, slender sprouts and silver-barked birch trees. Narrow deer trails wind like tunnels into the brush off the main trails that were cut and carved out years before I walked them, dark round droppings spilled like berries into the dips and tracks left by delicate hooves.

Gray, gritty brush surrounding the miles of open meadow that spreads itself below the crest of the tree line, opening itself so wide you have to turn your head both ways to take in it all. Rolling in a waving sea of gray-brown prairie grass poking like stubble through the white, the shallow frozen creek cutting through the bottom of the open field, a grove of pines blocking the northwest wind that burrows under coats and into your skin, sharpens the inside of your nose.

It’s a threatening beauty that impresses through intimidation. The starkness of it is enough to knock you back, its sheer endlessness enough to shrink you into humble awe.

I’ve always considered the land best witnessed on horseback, the smell of leather and animal sweat and alfalfa under your seat. I’ve been riding the same horse since I was nine, and when I was home in January, after months of being away at school, I heaved the worn saddle onto his warm black body, thick with staticy fuzz he’d been growing all winter. He is stomping the frozen, hollow-sounding ground and bobbing his high head, eager to be out, to have a purpose again.

When we are on the end of the trail and the meadow is framed between the two oaks that mark its beginning, my right hand is holding the reins under the curl of my fingers, the other is on the horse’s taught neck, his ears spring-coiled forward, twitching at every rustle of wood, every bird and gust of wind. Paused, but charged with the air that tastes deeper and fuller in the bottom of my chest. He can taste it too, and when I lean into him, my hand giving him the full length of his head, he bolts forward in voiceless, touchless obedience, pure willingness; the power in his legs pounding with a terrifying force, striding longer and faster until tears whip the outside corners of my eyes.

I don’t bother faking control, the thought of such only makes me want to cling on for dear life, knowing an animal this wild can’t be held back any more than the wind or the movement in the trees. So I move my body with his, raw energy pulsing into me until control’s no longer the point. We are the ground and we are the air and we are the gruesome aliveness that just simply is. And while the familiar, hear-racing fear spills into me and grips like the abruptness of stepping into January air, it is this that reminds me of how shockingly good and costly it is to feel.


On the Crest of the Wave

Today I finally got over to the Como conservatory like I’ve been wanting to do all winter, utterly ready for an emergency dose of green and warmth and whatever serenity I was hoping to find. Unfortunately for my introverted self, I was nothing short of disappointed to find the complete chaos I had walked straight into, warmish Sunday afternoons apparently being the most popular time to haul in strollers full of babbling children eager to pull off mittens they’ve been wrestled into all winter.

So I shifted my focus into full fledged people watching. And trying not to step on any oblivious toddlers.

If you’re like every other Twin Cities dweller and have been to Como, you know that one of the first sights you see when you enter the massive greenhouse gardens is the Crest of The Wave fountain centered in its own little courtyard, the barefooted statue of a woman seeming to leap into the density of trees scraping the glass walls. I want to spend the whole afternoon gazing at her, taking mental notes for the poem I want to revolve around her. Pulling a dingy 1976 penny out of my coin purse, I flick it off my thumbnail into the fountain’s top tier with a wet plink, wishing my feet were as light as the dark figure carved into such bliss.


On the wooden bench to my left sits a small woman reading, her black hair rocking along with the baby she holds. She seems alone, and I think of how this is the place I would sit if I found myself that way. Through the automatic doors race two small hispanic girls, pressing themselves against the low bowl collecting what streams off the statue’s feet. The bigger girl bends her torso over the lip, raking her fingers through the clear water, letting it pour over over her palm. With no hesitation, she cups her hand, avoids the penny’s glinting at the bottom, and scoops the water into her mouth. She is oblivious to my or anyone else’s shock, and looks confused when her frazzled mother grabs her by the ear and pulls her away.

In the sunken garden, pendant flowers and lillypads float on the narrow pond, and my eyes are actually dizzy from the pink freckled lilies, violet pansies, and white roses so perfect they unfold like pearl kaleidoscopes.The crystal like walls slope into a glass Taj Mahal, slender coniferous trees trimmed liked manicured fingers line the interior as columns.  A woman with a camera around her neck and white hair walks in and exclaims, “Why, doesn’t it smell delicious in here?” and as weird as it sounds, it does.


A two year old with brown, curly pigtails steps with one foot only on the shallow steps that lead up out of the garden as she and her dad count aloud 1, 2, 3, 4. When she trips, her arm goes taught in her father’s thick hand, her knees never scraping the stone. She points at the electric orange koi fish with their Fu Manchu mustaches, their rubbery, tunnel lips blowing kisses above the water.

And all around people are peeling off coats like old skins, shedding the cold and gray February slushed they tracked in. I cross my legs on the bench and watch them, the change in the air making them perk like the plants in their water mist, me feeling restored  from just observing it all. I lean into a ballet-slipper pink flower I don’t know the name of, the smell of raw honey and jasmine in my lungs.

I’m content here among this life that’s being tricked into blooming. The plants that have no idea of the environment they’re beating or the cold that presses up against the sun-soaked windows. They have no idea of all that is working in their favor, they only put down roots and stretch themselves as far as they can reach. As they are meant to.

As I think I am meant to. As I find the place that allows me to bloom just the same.