Archived Story

Taking a moment to appreciate the present

Published 12:47pm Monday, July 8, 2013

Column: Final Word, by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

The Blazing Star Trail has been one of my favorite things since I moved here nearly eight years ago. You could say I fell head over handlebars in love with it. Fortunately, no children, dogs, small woodland creatures or even I were injured. I got back on my bike, smiled sheepishly and pedaled away. The startled witnesses provided ample room as we passed each other.

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The Blazing Star Trail, like my toddler-dominated life, is a work in progress that can be fully enjoyed now. The paved trail is about six miles long, and the scene changes from wetland to wild prairie to farmland to oak savanna. It isn’t too hilly, which is a great fit for my child-rearing 30s. In a few years my husband and I will be able to take our children out for rides on it.

My perception of the landscape changed when I had children — what I used to find exciting is now life-threatening, and what was boring is now relaxing and family-friendly. There are no cliffs, tar pits, whitewater rapids or alligator-infested swamps along the route. Thank goodness.

The trail extends from Albert Lea east to Myre-Big Island State Park, climbs around a hill with an astonishing vista and stops. Or rather, the pavement ends. Gravel continues over part of the proposed route to Hayward, and from there it will cross the countryside to Austin, and eventually link to the Shooting Star Trail.

“This is going to be so great!” I exclaimed to the deer grazing under the trees one sunny morning a few years ago as I imagined the trail stretching in front of me. “It’s going to be the best thing to happen since Babe the Blue Ox!” My tall tale-infused hyperbole and future-telling didn’t alarm the munching megafauna one bit, which I should have taken as a sign. Progress on the new development has been slow.

Children also tend to slow down plans. I do things glacially slowly now. I admire women who can wrangle toddlers and advance their careers at the same time, but I didn’t achieve a healthy balance and decided to stay home for a couple years. At times I still want to accomplish something that requires sustained mental effort, but even five minutes of inattention invites the children to create a small-scale disaster.

On one occasion, my 4-year-old gave me a substantial start on washing the bathroom floor during a naval battle he fought with measuring cups in the sink, and his 1-year-old acolyte drizzled lukewarm coffee crop circles on our beige carpet.

I try to see my life as a work in progress whenever I feel I’m wasting away in toddlerville. It’s just a short layover on the journey back to productivity. It’s a great time to enjoy the figure-eight section of the Blazing Star Trail, over and over again. My son loves this “infinity loop.” The aptness of the name makes me smile every time he says it.

The loop’s length is perfect for him to bike and run on. He also attempts to socialize with every dog he meets. (A thank-you to the many patient pet owners who have stopped for him.) We pause to be sad for the turtle eggs that raccoons have ravaged, and then we pause 50 feet down the trail to be sad for the next batch of white turtle egg fragments. We quietly observe pairs of ducks resting in the grass next to Albert Lea Lake, and we listen to avian friends calling in the trees ringing the wetlands. It is a small world offering big discoveries if one doesn’t blow past it with head down and shoulders up, trying to fast-forward to the next phase.

It is the sweet life now, and the best is yet to come.

 

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson taught social studies in Albert Lea for more than six years before staying home to raise children. She lives with her husband, Jeshua, and their two children, Trixie and Axel, and is probably either pushing or chasing a toddler down a sidewalk as you read this.