There is one truth about a routine nature walk: Nothing’s static.
Nanci Olesen’s observations, her nature scratchings in words and artwork, bear that out.
She likes to document her repeat outings in her East Harriet neighborhood in south Minneapolis, bringing a naturalist’s soul to each new day.
Olesen embraces what may come, and that capacity poured out in a personal project in 2017. For 30 days, in the month of November, she walked through Farmstead Park, through the Roberts Bird Sanctuary, north of Lake Harriet, and home. She called the outings “Phunology” (“like phenology, only phunner”), which is viewable in its entirety on her Instagram feed or website.
Olesen, a former public radio reporter and commentator and Montessori teacher, gladly took on a New Year’s assignment of sorts for Outdoors Weekend. We asked her to send out 2018 and mark 2019, beginning with the same daily walk for a week through one of her favorite spots: Roberts Bird Sanctuary. What might be revealed each day on the same walk? She began Dec. 29, and stuck to her creative routine. When she returned, Olesen pulled out a 4x6 sketchbook, watercolor pencil and fine-point Sharpie, and put down her observations in her distinctive, whimsical style.
“I think there is a lot of talk these days about walking meditation,” Olesen said. “I just went out with open eyes.”
Olesen’s seven drawings, some of which are on this page, reflect a curiosity and intimacy on her outings that sometimes transcend nature — or do they?
Olesen walks on common ground when she enters the woods and wetland of the sanctuary, named in 1947 for Thomas Sadler Roberts, an ornithology professor and director of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. She and her family have lived in a neighborhood east of Lake Harriet for more than 30 years.
“[The sanctuary] is great at any time of year,” Olesen said. “It’s such a resource.”
Olesen's journal entries are below:
My first day of my walk. “Bitter cold,” we say here. Yes. It is. Sun shining all slant-ey on the trees and frozen lake. Surprise! My shadow! What?! So long + dark blue + flowing across, onto the trees and the scant snow.
Midafternoon, sort of grey. Still cold but not bitter. Me neither. I met an old friend on the path. Chatting. We found a red-hatted woman happily pointing out a red-capped pileated woodpecker. We saw chickadees and juncos, too. Later, a boy, Lamont, from my old school. In a red hat! “Fourth grade is hard!” he said. I have a red hat, too! Oh, and I fell on the ice. Twice! Arggh …
4 p.m. Greeeeeyyyyyy. Snow’s coming. Ice still freaking us all out. I only slipped two times. Deep in the bird sanctuary is a little streamlet-kind-of pond. Mallards were doing their happy swim and their funny ra-ra-ra-ra sound. That same pileated woodpecker (or so I think) swooped low, making some loud wa-wa-wa-wa … and me, quietly, to all of it: “Woah.” Snow falling at an angle and temperature dropping steadily. The tree trunk seemed to say “Onward into the new year.” The pond responded “Shoooooshh.” “Tzee, tzee,” whispered the fallen branch.
There are two lifeguard chairs at North Beach, Lake Harriet. I like the one on the left. Sunset. Resolutions. Bravery. “Happy New Year,” I say from my perch on the chair, gazing out at the miraculous ice. Surprisingly, the lifeguard chair responds, “Same to you!!"
The path back up the hill to home looks like a little stream. The globe lights on poles are glowing. Dusk is coming, with that angst-y, wintery familiarity. We wish for more snow. I miss our happy holiday. Boots crunching along. Sweet Farmstead Park.
It’s that blue of dusk — especially in the winter. Glorious! Deep blue — getting inky — but still holding light. The simple magnificence of it all. Oh baby! The beauty. Indeed!
Ok, you fallen tree, thank you. I mean it. I thought, “Well … settle down, and just practice looking.” Why not? Look here, look here.
And thank you. For real.