MARCH 20, 2018

March in the City

“The path immediately behind our condo gives an open view of the floodplain. In winter, the the foliage gone and the sedges pressed down from the snow, the wetlands have a vast uneven surface, like a thick, lumpy white bed quilt…”  – Robert Root, from Walking Home Ground


Late March, and with the weather break, as those old entrenched patches of ice along the sidewalks and in the darker corner of the parks and driveways melt, the nature walker begins to silently sing himself, for there is a new companion waiting right outside the front door. The sun, the gradual entrance of birdsong on the scene, and the breaking up of lake ice, are all good friends. There’s no reason for winter to take this the wrong way – I like to walk across the street along the banks at Yahara Park any day in the depth of winter, and watch how that world of liquid water turns to a white platform; how Madisonians like to walk and skate and fish out of their tent-like shacks day in and day out. On the best of the deep freeze days, let’s face it, the scene of crystal blue sky above and that white smooth platform below, the action in between as the wintering ducks still paddle along the open water of the Yahara river, is a boon for the artist’s eye. A month or so ago, during a shockingly cold snap, we had walked out onto the lake, two daughters and I, and tossed a nerf football around as slipped and slid across the Monona ice, the sun so bright it left those shards of burning light in our eyes. The capital dome, off in the distance, rose up white itself among the low lying cloud, as if to wink at its own companions.

And yet it seems that there are few people who would welcome this icy white scene over the warm sunlit breeze that ruffles through the fiery beige marsh grass of late March day. Out there, on the ponds at the Aldo Leopold Center and the Edna Ruth Conservatory, the geese are loud and dipping their bills down into the open water to feed; three otters cruise back and forth along the surface of one of the ponds there, leaving their v-line trails, heads somehow perfectly steady, as they test the strength of the marsh reeds for their building purposes.  As I walk along the looping paths here, even though both of these nature preserves are built directly inside the confines of the city, it doesn’t take much an imaginative leap to let Stoughton and Femrite road fade and disappear, and see this wonderful little patch of old woods become the oak savannah of old, supporting those gnarled and unpredictable lines of the black trees, contrasted ecstatically by the grass and marshlands below, and the string of ponds, great dabs of silvery blue, resources for the critters both seen and unseen. This is a scene of city restoration, and one that is so accessible that a hope quickly stands out: let us get every child in the city on these and other trails like them, weekly, daily, as regularly as possible.