There’s a stretch of creek that runs in front of our house that’s just about the most bucolic place you’ve ever seen. Shimmery waters, rustling trees, picturesque bridges – it’s gorgeous. And wholesome. But not everything is entirely what it seems.
When we bought our house we told our friends out East we were moving to Minnehaha Creek. Minnehahahahaha we would bray nervously, making light of our move back to the Midwest and to a place with such a preposterous name.
Little did I know how Minnehaha Creek, the backbone to the good green city of Minneapolis, would insinuate itself into my imagination and my reality. We didn’t just buy a house. We bought a kingdom.
It takes thirty seconds to walk down into the gorge of the creek from my house and I feel my cells quicken. I feel ten years old and more than a little frothy. Places like these, woods like these – this is where the best and the worst stuff happens. This is where you’re free. Free and hidden.
I remember dirty magazines in the spot I used to go to with my friend, Effi, back where I grew up. I remember clearing ground, making forts, staring up through the canopy of woody capillaries. I remember digging in the dirt, making smooth concavities to hold our stuff. I remember a dude who scared us bad – as in, run away with branches tearing at you and your heart pounding in your ears screaming bloody murder, bad. He was probably just a teenager looking for a place to smoke.
Years ago, I was hanging out on the bridge down at Minnehaha Creek with my babies. A man appeared with a look in his eye and an energy roiling off his shoulders that stopped me cold. I tasted bitterness in the back of my throat – fear. I will never know if he meant us harm. I do know that my body responded to him like prey.
And yet, despite or because of what I know about the woods, I still shoo my brood down to the creek. Go play. Make a fort. Explore. Run around. Brush up against life, nature, people. My son broke his arm on a cold winter’s day when he fell out of a tree after one of my shoos. Another time, two of them came home cheeks aflame with outrage. A woman had yelled at them for touching the dead fish caught in the muddy pools during a drought.
It takes a village, I told them.
You have my permission to touch the dead fish, I told them.
The creek is a favorite strolling place of a lady we call the Minneha-ho. She sticks out on these paths thick with runners and bikers in high tech sports gear. Ink black hair, sky high heels and more nights carved onto her face than her hot pants would have you imagine. I don’t think she’s actively looking for action, not that it much matters to me. Everyone needs a spot to walk and think and let the sun hit your tired back.
My kids’ favorite babysitter lived across the creek from us. I wonder if she ever told her mom about the time I rolled ass over teakettle down the snowy sledding hill when I was walking her home after a boozy night out. I popped up and dusted myself off with a chipper, not-fooling-anyone woopsiedaisy! Maybe she was too young to realize.
In winter, people sit on the banks, lace up ice skates and glide down the creek. It’s ridiculous and lovely – like a goddamn Currier and Ives painting. In summer, canoers and kayakers float by, disturbing the mallards and waving to feral children (mine) hanging off the bridges.
A couple winters ago, the Southwest Minneapolis Patch reported ‘Naked Man in High Heels Flees Police Near Minnehaha Creek’. He was apprehended and treated for lacerations to his feet from running in heels in the snow. His poor feet. He should talk to the Minneha-ho about more sensible shoe options. But, the truth of the matter is that he picked the best spot in the city for his little foray.
This is where you’re free. Free and hidden.