The International Writers Magazine: Wild America
Forging Through the Fourth
Spending all day indoors is simply too much for me, especially when it’s an off day. Whether the weather is fair, frigid, or feverish, I believe I have to spend my extra free time outside the house. So I bug Alyssa to do something outdoors until she can no longer put up with me being hyped up.
Photos also Alyssa Nier.
Moreover, my girlfriend volunteers to drive because she knows we’ll get to our destination faster, which, hopefully for her sake, means the faster I get these ants outta my pants. I even have the perfect place in mind. She just has no idea where it is.
“Where is it, Ty?”
“Take a left here.”
“All I see are trees!”
Alyssa cranks the wheel counterclockwise. She veers onto a narrow road leading to a paved clearing. She parks on the far edge of the vacant asphalt.
“I never knew this place was here! I drove right past it a couple months ago.”
“I bet tons of people miss it,” I say while noting the endless trees consuming the area.
“How do you know about it?”
“I was driving around bored a few years ago and just kinda found it.”
We step out of the Sonata and into an oven. The humidity instantly smacks me in the face. Knowing my eyes will soon sting if I don’t take action, I grab my baseball cap from the backseat. Rather than a headband or bandana, I prefer a hat to absorb my overabundant perspiration. I remove my shades and set them on the dash; they’ll fog up. I pull my visor down as far as possible to block out the fiery sun.
“The sky looks hazy, smoggy like L.A.”
I squint across the hood of the Hyundai to catch Alyssa ogling the heavens. She wipes her brow with the back of her hand. She slings her camera over her shoulder. I follow suit. We take last-second gulps from our water bottles. Matching each other stride for stride, we plod across the empty parking lot—our steps already heavy from the weight of the soggy skies.
||Dead air drapes over Bloomington, Minnesota. We are speechless, awestruck by the silence of the refuge. Our footsteps seem unusually loud while they crunch the unpaved trail. A fly buzzes by every now and then. A branch occasionally whines in the wind. We enter Richardson Nature Center lone survivors of the Apocalypse. In reality, most people are probably hiding from the heat. I picture them curled up beside their floor registers with their ACs maxed. The temperature has reached 101° in the Twin Cities, a record for July 4.
And because it’s Independence Day, our fellow humans are either out of town or waiting inside till the fireworks fire off. It will be cooler then, temp-wise and aesthetically.
The animals are apparently holed up too. As we tour the reserve, Alyssa and I notice the marshes are motionless; the lagoons resemble paintings due to their lack of ripples. We spot no muskrats at Muskrat Pond, no wood ducks at Wood Duck Pond, and no turtles basking at the Turtle Basking Pond. But just when we think we’re alone, we realize the contrary.
Ascending the Aspen Trail, we sense we’re being watched. We abruptly stop on the woodchips. Scanning the vegetation, we locate two turkeys poking their heads through the brush like a pair of periscopes. They’re beady black peepers fix on us. They gape for several seconds, turn around and run off to tell their friends.
From this point forward we can’t go more than a few minutes without seeing fowl staring us down. They prove to be harmless though. The turkeys scamper off the path whenever we get close, clearly not wanting to play chicken. I figure they’re simply intrigued to witness a couple of crazies actually trudging in this torridity.
Batty or not, we proceed to saunter through the swelter. We reach the Oak Trail. Thankfully the thick canopy of this three-quarter-mile stretch provides long periods of shade, allowing us to recharge a bit. I am pleased by the red berries and lavender flowers that sporadically decorate the dense green wall. Still, the leafy tunnel is captivating. Not only do we marvel at the monstrous heights and widths of some of the trees, but we are also fascinated by their snakelike branches. They twist, turn, and furcate endlessly.
||Emerging from the oak forest, we happen upon a wide open prairie. Documentaries of the Serengeti come to mind while I study the vast grassland. I envision zebras and gazelles darting across the plain’s lone and winding road. I gaze into the distant woods enclosing the suburban savanna. Mesmerized by the swaying trees, I listen intently. I hear no traffic from 494—one of the state’s busiest highways, which is a stone’s throw to the north.
Instead a light breeze rustles the treetops, producing a calming white noise similar to rainfall. The lull of this hidden metropolitan sanctuary makes it hard to believe that the international airport and Mall of America are only a few miles east. Taking in the serene landscape, I suddenly notice Alyssa’s ponytail bobbing far down the trail. I pick up my pace.
We’re standing at the tall glass doors of the visitor center a mile later. Feeling a cool mist blow through the cracks of the entryway, we yank on the handles and, much to our surprise, it’s open. We rush inside to absorb the air conditioning. Central air has never felt so refreshing.
A survey of the building shows vibrant clay mosaics adorning exhibit walls as books, pamphlets and maps decorate the shelves. We also learn that there are indeed more animals at the nature center; aquariums housing snakes and turtles to be exact. We approach the reptiles for a closer inspection.
While a false map turtle follows Alyssa’s pointer finger back and forth across the glass of its tank, I hear paperwork. I pursue the shuffling around a large staircase to find an older woman sitting behind an info desk.
“Hello!” she greets cheerfully.
“Hi!” I reply somewhat startled.
“The park is all yours!” the bespectacled lady adds, obviously thinking we’ve just arrived.
“Yeah, there’s no one else here,” I hear Alyssa respond over my shoulder.
“Isn’t that heat just awful?”
We nod simultaneously.
“Well, be careful out there. You two enjoy your day!”
We leave the lobby believing this has already been accomplished. Before reaching the exit, however, we discover something that tops off the afternoon: a pair of chilled water fountains. We guzzle copious amounts of ice cold H20 prior to returning to the sultriness.
We drag ourselves across the pavement and finally reach the car. The interior roasting, we stand for a bit with the doors open.
“Are you palpitating?” Alyssa asks.
“Yup,” I reply, tapping my right hand on my heart.
“That’s because you’re dehydrated.”
“I’ll be fine.”
She gives me a concerned look, but I look past it. I home in on the trailhead on the opposite side of the lot.
“Where does that path go?”
Alyssa doesn’t even turn around to acknowledge what I’m referring to.
“Another day honey,” she answers. “I’m too hot.”
© Tyrel Nelson November 2012
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