Travel is typically defined as going from one place to another, usually over a distance of some length. Because travel, in this most-understood definition, has been curtailed this year, exploring natural phenomena close to home has let me engage my travel mindset while expanding the meaning of travel to the act of passage to or through a place unfamiliar. Discovering the spirit of a place can be meaningful and moving even if that location is just a few kilometers from your door.
Instead of studying Eyewitness guidebooks and perusing RometoRio.com as I usually do before a trip, I research walking paths and consult local hiking and cycling recommendations. I’ve made some startling discoveries. In avoiding city streets and shopping centers, finding solace in the forest and wide-open prairies, in lightly-used parks and preserves, in fields of goldenrod and on bluffs high above riverbanks, I find myself filled with wonder.
While on the lyrical Sakatah Singing Hills Trail, so named by the Dakota people native to the area, I listened to birdsong and breezes. The adjoining park has cultural significance to the native inhabitants; some of their burial mounds are preserved there. The transition of big woods to prairies was noticeable in the types of vegetation and foliage. The lake was a delight; I relished cooling my toes on a sultry summer day, as the dappled sunlight danced on the waves, promising myself to return another time with my kayak.
With tremendous luck, one spring day I came upon a pair of barred owls in a regional park not far from my home. Spring Lake Park Reserve has miles of trails along bluffs that offer birds-eye views of the river below. As the trees hadn’t yet become verdure and leafy (Minnesota’s winter over-lasting its stay), the birds-watching-me-watching-them became a sweet memory, and I know I’ll return to that spot often hoping for another glimpse.
Even closer to home is a trail with an overlook that provides a rare view of the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. As the pandemic wore on, I returned throughout the seasons for changing colors, fragrant blossoms, and historical reminders of early settlers. One evening, the sunset that burst through the clouds was so stunning it caused an audible gasp to escape from my lips, as I was encouraged with a profound sense of awe and enchantment.
Finding beauty wherever you are, letting your steps and thoughts guide you, going forth with no expectations and embracing the path you are on . . .these clichés actually do ring true. If your curiosity leads you to discover things of interest and intrigue, then the meaning of travel is just a mindset. Of course, I am still aching for a glass of rosé on the Champs Elysees. But until I can return to France, I’ll engage my travel mindset and appreciate the sense of place that comes from encountering nearby wonders.