On my one-year anniversary of living in Minnesota, I decided to celebrate with a long walk. I’ve always loved walking. I can tromp along happily for miles, whether on city sidewalks or a forest trail; give me a pair of practical hiking boots and the world is mine. I would make a good buffalo or goat or something like that – a trodder. So I celebrated my two-year anniversary here with another long walk, and two days ago, I celebrated my three-year anniversary with a third.
These walks give me a new perspective of the cities, and the chance to duck into interesting places, stop frequently for snacks, talk to strangers, and make a new sense of the maps. It’s different than being in a car, or even on a bike. A mile takes 17-18 minutes and is full of interesting sights and smells: a well-crafted treehouse in a front yard; people lined up for pastries in a warm shop; posters in windows; tiny red squirrels; a cloud of pot smoke; smoking sausages; a three-story tall mural of beautiful women; families bundling into tiny cars; a game of flag football; a silent gathering waiting for a bus.
On my one-year anniversary, I walked from downtown Saint Paul to downtown Minneapolis: eighteen miles. Along the way, I asked people I encountered on the street what they liked about living in the cities, and got answers ranging from the river to nights out to winter. I visited the Hmong Marketplace and a cheese shop and the Como Conservatory and the state capital building and several other sites. The cities began to feel both more connected and more different; there were clear personality and style changes as I moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, and finally crossed the Mississippi. (Allyson and Niko walked with me for the final stretch, under the towering skyscrapers of Minneapolis, until we ended at a Polish restaurant to meet for beer and sausages.)
On my two-year anniversary, I decided to follow the water. I started where Minnehaha Creek spills into the Mississippi and then headed upstream, past Minnehaha Falls, following the creek to the chain of lakes and continuing north and then east until I was back at the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis: 22 miles. This route was far more beautiful than the previous year’s, and also far more boring – instead of a range of different kinds of neighborhoods and businesses, I spent the entire day in wealthy, white, waterfront. All of the houses were big and beautiful and old, with sprawling, clean front yards. There were trendy little cafes serving espresso and gluten-free pastries, and stationary stores selling clever cards and hand-painted dish towels and clean-burning candles. The creek ran through everything, half-frozen and sprinkled with ducks. Bare willows and aspens hung slender branches over my path. When I got to the lakes I was able to walk across them, taking careful steps on the rough ice. Jane was with me by then, and she walked the rest of the route with me, until we met our gang at a cozy candlelit restaurant in Minneapolis for drinks and huge bowls of food, and I massaged my quads surreptitiously under the round table.
I stayed in Minneapolis this year too. (Saint Paul, I apologize – I promise to come visit you soon.) I started right out of my front door, and headed north, then west, then south, and then back home again, making a 23-mile loop through several neighborhoods, including some of the northern ones I hadn’t previously spent much time in. Minneapolis proper is huge. My 23 miles came nowhere close to covering the city – there are several neighborhoods south of my route that I skipped entirely. Allyson and Niko made a return as my walking buddies for the second half.
Some notable moments from this year:
In the morning, I stopped for a coffee from a little Somali-owned cafe in Cedar-Riverside. I asked if they had vegetarian sambusa. “Sambusa? Yes! One, two, or three?” “Yes, but do they have meat in them?” “Yes! Meat!” “I’m vegetarian, so I don’t eat meat, so that’s okay actually.” “Okay, so one?” And so that’s how I got a steaming hot sambusa with my black coffee. I’m a pushover. Later Niko ate it and he said it was delicious.
In North Minneapolis, I told a man waiting for the bus about my walk, and asked him if he lived in the neighborhood. He paused for a long time, and said, “Kind of, I guess. I’m homeless actually.” I don’t think I need to describe how dumb and privileged I felt in that moment. We talked a little more; he’s from Chicago, came here to escape the gang violence, and is utterly disappointed with his choice. Too much shooting here too, he said. Niko and I bought him a hot coffee from the little corner store we were standing in front of. His name is Don.
In Northeast, I met two different guys who sell antiques and architectural oddities (there was one enormous building full of doorknobs, chandeliers, window frames, doors.) One of them talked to me about how close he lives to work, but how far he has to drive his kids to school. One of them talked to me about a robbery last year – someone broke in and stole all of the copper pipes in the basement – but now he’s remodeled and rents their big space out for weddings and events. It was a tall brick building full of arches and thick glass windows.
I wandered into an event that turned out to be the annual fundraiser luncheon for a nonprofit called Reclaim, which offers counseling and community mentor ship programs for young people who are queer or trans. A friendly young woman told me all about their work, and said, “I’d offer that you should stay, but people paid a lot for their tickets to be here, so I don’t know if I can,” and I said, “No, no, no, thank you, I have a lot of miles to walk still,” and gave her six dollars in wrinkled bills as a donation.
On the banks of the Mississippi, in an industrial port area, I toured a mushroom farm. (How whimsical does that sound? But there, amidst towering storage containers and shuttered barges and piles of gravel, was a collection of storage containers filled with burgeoning mushrooms, and their farmer.) I talked to three female undergrads heading into a chemistry exam (on a Saturday! Gross.) I bought and ate literally the most delicious hot, soft pretzel that has ever existed. Niko and I shared a slice of pecan pie and some chai tea in North Minneapolis. We walked through parks and past wetland corridors.
In short, Minneapolis is a complicated, cool, wonderful sort of place. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here three years now. I’m constantly torn between the simple loveliness of putting down roots in a place (I’m finding my place here in a network of people working for environmental education and justice; I have my Zoo life, my dance life, my friends, my neighbors, my bike paths and local co-op) and missing my nomadic ways, summers off, and life in national parks and seasonal jobs. Do you feel that too? That conflict, through your core, between home comforts, a woven community – and a world of adventure, change, strangeness?