Meandering leads to perfection. —Laozi, ancient Chinese philosopher
Our Sunday journey began with a distinct purpose and place in mind—to find and explore the Mississippi River County Park. We had never been to this park, but knew it wouldn’t be too hard to locate, as the Mississippi River runs right through St. Cloud and its northern suburbs. Once on the right road with the River on our right, we headed north past large houses, an old saw mill dam, and groves of evergreen trees. Finally, we saw the large sign for the park. A man with his two small children and two large dogs tumbled from a pick-up truck for some outdoor running and fun in the snow-free prairie area. A teenage girl drove slowly through the park again and again under the tutelage of her Dad. The first thing I saw when I disembarked from the car was this huge old cedar tree, pockmarked with rows and rows of woodpecker drills. What if our every wound was evident on the outside of us, for all the world to see? Would we be kinder? Would we take better care of one another?
A patch of white in the gray woods caught my eye. Zooming in with the camera, I found a monster branch with a cyclops eye, shaggy moss green hair and shelf fungi hands, like gargoyles hanging from a ledge. I’m still not sure what the white was—it seemed too white for a broken limb on such a dead looking branch, and the warm week of temperatures surely would have melted any snow that high in the tree. Mystery.
We started down a trail to get to the River but didn’t get very far on the slick, water-coated snow/ice. We tried another trail, but encountered the same thing—slippery slopes of melting ice with no traction. The ice-covered River was within sight but out of bounds for today. We would try another time.
With our plan and purpose foiled, we decided to follow the Great River Road, meandering north to see what we could see. Prairie Home Companion played on the radio—Chris Thile’s mandolin filling the car and my soul with melodic music. We saw a bald eagle swoop down to the ditch where its mate and a juvenile were standing. Beyond them, the River was now open, flowing, with shelves of ice still hanging from the shores.
We drove to Blanchard Dam, one of the tallest dams on the Mississippi River. It holds back water to create Zebulon Pike Lake (named after explorer Zebulon Pike who was commissioned to find the source of the Mississippi River in 1805.) Above the dam, the lake was still iced over, despite our warm week, and a lone ice fisherman sat on his bucket patiently waiting for a bite.
We walked out on the old railroad bridge, now the Soo Line Trail, that crosses the river just below the dam. Huge chunks of ice cascaded and fell from the open gates. The noise of the water was deafening, and a stiff wind confused our senses even more.
Yet it was kind of exhilarating and marvelous at the same time!
Interesting ice patterns under the bridge by the shore gave way to the mighty Mississippi…
…meandering on its long journey to the Gulf of Mexico.
Our attempt to get to the Mississippi River at the county park, as planned, didn’t work. But sometimes things don’t go as planned. We run into wounded things and mysterious monsters. We try to navigate the road ahead and find ourselves on slippery slopes that want to take us down—and I don’t mean down to the River. Our purpose and intention fail us. It’s disappointing, to say the least. My first inclination was to reject the quote by Laozi—how could meandering lead to perfection?! Purpose, practice, goals, work, intention—those are the qualities that lead to perfection, right? But then, when I looked more closely at my day, I realized how enjoyable it was to meander along the river. Listening to Prairie Home Companion with nothing else to do but stare out the window at the River was soothing and satisfying. The serendipitous sighting of a trio of eagles was a gift. Standing in the power and beauty of the roaring, unleashed energy of the River was exhilarating. Meandering along the Mississippi River really was the perfect part of my day.