Real ground


Sep 2, 2020 | Real Ground | 2 comments


Contributed By: Catherine Rose

I am Cathy Rose and I live in St Paul Minnesota. And one place I love to walk is the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge weekly. This is where the inspiration for this piece came from.


Photo credit: Catherine Rose

I slept well last night. I am always grateful when I awake refreshed.


But so heavy my spirit this morning. I pray, straighten the house and then come to the Refuge. My refuge. A refuge from negative thinking. A refuge from life’s demands and worries. A place where my thoughts can soar like the white pelicans I see circling, circling in the sky above me. A place where my memory bubbles forth like the ancient karoo of the sandhill cranes before me. A refuge from false self, a safe haven for true self. Here I walk with the deer Whitman saw as so self-contained. Here are the flowers that yield to the winds without complaint and the geese that Mary Oliver says know how to find their way home without guilt. 


The Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge rests in Central Minnesota along the St Francis River Valley that had been drained for agriculture in the early 1900s. It is a 30,600 acre expansive restoration of these wetlands conceived in Congress in 1965 and completed in the 1980s. Where I like to walk most is in the flat 7 miles of Wildlife Drive among the mix of Oak Savanna and prairie. Here the landscape reaches deep within my soul, touching me with its numerous tall, burnt and barren trees from prescribed burns whose trunks at base are covered in marsh and pool waters. Cormorants patrol the grassy waters over the fallen driftwood from their branches, some appearing as totems as they dry their wings. Otters chase and play below. Trumpeter Swans who are present rest with their nuzzled beaks tucked into their back feathers. 


In the two major ecosystems of the tall prairie grasses and the hardwoods, the eagle soars confidently with total abandon, pointing me to a circle of clouds in the sky forming a wedding band, reminding me of who I am really married to – wildness in all its forms. The gentle wild winds cover me securely as I lay on a bed of these bluestem grasses surrounded by the penstemon, prairie smoke, butterfly weed and more. I think of my dream lovers the tiger swallowtails who are quietly flapping their wings within my view like butter finally freed from a cold plate. I think of Bear, whose tracks I followed electrically last week and Cougar who spotted me before I noticed her over in the cattails. This wildness which moves my heart, picks me up and caresses me in the embrace of interconnectedness of all life. 


After an unknown amount of time, I start out again along the narrow gravel road. I smell a grassy, algae moisture coming from the road and look down. There at my feet lay a fresh blue heron feather. A gift reminding me my creator is near. And I think of Psalm 91 – “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” 


I look upward and outward. This time I catch the moon, half and white above, bringing me twice the light of the sun. She actually shines blue-white like the sky today. And she sends the cool breezes to wash all my misperceptions away. Butterflies, this time monarchs and little spring azure ones, dip and dart to each new flower or grain of sand.  Bumble bees make their low drone which magnifies the absolute stillness of the day. 


I’m smiling. So much beauty all around. So much beauty infusing quietly into my soul instilling me with a calm so deep it reaches the origins of my being. 


Let me tell you something dangerous—something true. It is not Heaven I love. It is Earth. Our earth – yours and mine – suspended in time. Mass in air that receives the sun and changes his energy into life forms creating the conscious beauty that then encircles round and round in wonder for those who care to see. Yes, earth. Inviting participation and then yielding the gift of belonging for you and for me. I love my earth. My Sherburne Wildlife Refuge. My beautiful and holy refuge.


  1. Pat Zemer

    “A refuge from false self, a safe haven for true self.” I love that! We all need a refuge, especially now….that certain place in these uncertain times. Thank you so much, Cathy, for sharing yours with us. Hugs!

  2. Carol Rawlings

    Your refuge sounds wonderful, Cathy. Indeed, any place you can hear and see sandhill cranes is close to a paradise! As “Real Ground” essays have shown, wildness is something essential to human wholeness, whether it is found by hiking in a designated wilderness area or along an old country road, whether it is watching birds in your yard or the sky through an urban apartment window. Surely we will all go forward ready to protect the wild however we best can.


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