By: Ashley Duffalo
I was standing in the golf course opposite my apartment building looking at the traces left behind in the snow. I imagined a scene where all the skiers, sledders and hikers who made these marks were inhabiting the slope together at once, like the foreboding chaos of a Bruegel painting. This was my first Field Guide excursion into an unknown corner of my new universe—a private country club turned public park over the winter months.
As my mid-month reflection for Living Chapters I thought I’d share some observations I wrote down after my walk taken on Saturday, January 5th. I hope they’ll give you some sense of my new found place and transport you temporarily to St. Paul, Minnesota.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland passing through the gate and climbing up a steep hill into unfamiliar territory. The sun was bright and it was one of those radiant winter days that helps make this season bearable in Minnesota. Needless to say it was cold, even colder than normal with the Polar Vortex on its way. There was not a cloud in the sky, it’s blue was warm and gem like, and the white desert of snow reflected so much light it took a few moments to adjust my eyes.
The first thing I noticed: there were tracks everywhere—bootprints, ski paths, and sled grooves—with the densest overlay on the large hill, the prime sledding spot. Although no one was out playing today I decided to walk away from where the action would normally be found and descended down a series of undulating hills. I came across a partially frozen stream filled with brown autumn leaves that held a perfectly preserved dead frog, floating belly up to expose its pearlescent white skin. Time seemed to stand still here, if it weren’t for the run of water that cascaded from pool to pool to remind me that time and earth are always moving.
The landscape was full of bumps and valleys unlike most of the flattened prairie land around here. WIth the snow cover it was easy to forget that this topography was artificially created to give way to long fairways and challenging par fives. The white underfoot was uneven, sometimes hard enough to support my weight other times I crunched through the top crust into the powdery stuff below.
The other blue that caught my attention was a cooler, more purplish one, found in the shadows cast by the trees. The silhouettes barely captured the intricacy of the branches. One tree’s veiny bramble brought to mind the delicate outline of flora found in Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de Benci that I had been looking at earlier after reading a passage by Rebecca Solnit, who referenced it in her Field Guide to Getting Lost.
If I were to account for the sounds I heard, a sensory experience that admittedly is less developed for me than the visual experience, I took note of the distant and constant drone of traffic, my own breath and footsteps in the snow, and the wind blowing into my faux fur-lined hood whirling around my ear canal.
If I turned south, the wind was at my back and it was warmer, thus I set off in that direction to climb another hill. My reward at the top was a small igloo, the exterior of which was made hard and glassy-looking from the elements. So much so that it almost appeared to be a permanent structure made of some futuristic material. I sat inside this cozy cave, protected, staring out towards my living room window before heading home.