My New Favorite Place

October 8, 2008

Four or five nights a week I’ve been detouring on my way home from work to the county forest just east of town. Located on the bluffs which quite literally overlook the city, Hixon Arboretum is my new favorite place on earth. There is something about the angle of the hills which fits just right with some deep part of my psyche. Its not familiar, exactly – this is not the Wisconsin I was brought up knowing – but it fits. Its also covered in gorgeous fall foliage and has exactly the right size of trails and number of other people on them. I even like the way the packed dirt of the worn trail feels under my feet. A few weeks ago I drove an hour and a half on a saturday to visit a reputedly fabulous nature preserve in Vernon county. It was certainly beautiful terrrain but I just couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t like walking on a stubbly path mown six feet wide through the grass. I kept thinking that I could have saved gas and hours by just walking at my own dear park and liked it better. Which I guess, means I’m happier now knowing that I’m in a spot I prefer, just five blocks off of my commute route.
Some of the paths wind in an out along the foot of the bluffs, snaking into and then out of each new valley between the projecting hills topped with rocky outcroppings. These are perfect for medetative rambles and days with knee pain. But the days have been getting shorter and now I find that I like to get more bang for my walking buck by hiking up to the look out points and catching a glimpse of sunset before heading back down. This is my favorite spot, originally named Lookout Point, as seen from the next ridge top over. You can get up to the rocky outcropping one of two ways, by winding up along the northern valley on a moderately sloped path through the trees and then switchbacking out to the point or by heading nearly straight up hill along the front. When pressed for time I do that. you can see the way I go, but not the path itself, in that 45 degree sloped prairie remnant along the front. I climb it almost like a ladder, leaning forward on my hands as I find new footings each step up. It leaves me breathless at several points. I’ll go up that way but not down – wouldn’t even think of it. But that means that the down side, already in shaddow gets pretty dark after the sunset. On monday, by the time I got back to my car, it was so dark I couldn’t see anything but where the trail generally was because of the absense of fallen leaves. I kept tripping on stumps – it got a little exciting.

Since I’m usually racing for the sunset these days this is more often than not my view. Pausing to catch my breath and look back over my shoulder at the sun disappearing behind trees in the foreground and, far across the river valley of the Mississippi, behind the answering bluffs on the Minnesota side. I don’t really mind though. Often the time following the sunset is the nicest of all. And there is a remarkably comfortable rock to sit on and think about the day before shaking myself out of the reverie and heading down into the gathering dark.

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