Checking the Heart

“No matter what you’ve planned, you can change your mind at any time. Keep checking in with your heart about what you might need in any given moment. None of this is easy, even if what you’ve planned goes beautifully.”

Megan Devine, “Refuge in Grief”

The deep blue sky was dotted with big, billowing white clouds as my dear friend, Mary, and I traveled down the country roads of southeastern Minnesota. The temperature was finally warm – not hot – and the humidity was at last comfortable after a long siege of tropical air. Mary was driving, so I had the luxury of just soaking in the whole world around us as we traveled through the countryside. My heart needed this on this day.

We wound our way through rich farmland and down long, winding roads between high bluffs filled with thick forests, into the Mississippi Valley. Everything was lush and green, belying any thoughts of the drought that has plagued much of this state. Within the first few miles, we had spotted an eagle picking up some lunch from the highway’s median! A first for both of us! Surely a good sign! Our surprised exclamation, “Oh, look!” would be repeated many times over on this magical day.

The corn and beans had begun to turn, and harvest should commence within a month. The land was lush with beauty. We were heading for the Mississippi River and Winona, home of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, where I would be seeing original paintings, many by the most famous of painters from past centuries. Manet and Monet; Matisse; Gaugin; Degas; Picasso; Andrew Wyeth; Van Gogh; Georgia O’Keeffe; the Hudson River School; Audubon. Also the smaller version of Emanuel Leutze’s, “Washington Crossing the Potomac,” whose largest version resides at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Once in the museum, I meandered slowly from room to room, painting to painting, meeting with delight after delight. Stopping longer at some than others. I hadn’t been in an art museum for many years, and I’d forgotten how captivating it can be. I was in another world.

The world of pandemic and war was absent for a while, and the slow burn of the grief that goes with them was subdued as I wandered among the enormous walls covered with genius.

When we returned at last to the sun and gentle breezes outside, we spent some time just embracing our senses along the river, the rich fall gardens and the warmth of the sun. Then we headed north to Wabasha, where we planned to have lunch, and where my favorite store, Chocolate Escape, held the promise of their iconic turtles. The few restaurants that sounded good for us were, unfortunately, all closed on Tuesdays. No lunch there, but ah, the chocolate was always ready! There would be turtles for dessert.

In Wabasha, the eager traveler can catch the big bridge across the Mississippi, a familiar trek for me but always exhilarating! It goes straight into Nelson, Wisconsin, where traveler favorite, The Cheese Factory, is located just across the railroad tracks. We were lucky enough to “get” to wait for a freight train to cross the road before we could get there, but that was all part of the fun of the day. Because I love trains!!! And the urban art that’s painted on the sides of the cars.

The Cheese Factory is known for its ice cream, but we got healthy sandwiches instead and sat in a booth in a charming little dining area. I had my first root beer in years to wash down The Town of Nelson sub on whole wheat bread. Just to offset the turtles that would find their time later.

I had had a heavy heart over the weekend as I watched too much of the unfolding of the wild rescue of thousands in Afghanistan. I live in such an insulated world, and so much tragedy and chaos had weighed hard on me.

But that day – Tuesday – I was given the gift of being able to check my heart, as Megan Devine suggests; to find some calm and some perspective. I gave myself the gift of warm friendship, fresh breezes, and travel through magical countryside; sunshine and Charlie Brown clouds; and The River of my heart. And I was reminded that the beauty of the land and of love and laughter, good healthy food, and summer itself are all a part of Creation, the Great Healer.

I could breathe again. My heart was full and settled. The day had been grace, and just what I needed. Given to me by a wonderful friend who knows just how to do good things like that.

And I was very okay with that!

24 thoughts on “Checking the Heart

  1. For a few brief moments I was right there with you, Martha, driving through the Mississippi Valley and then straight into Nelson, Wisconsin. Thanks for transporting me to such a lovely place and reminding me how important it is to appreciate all the beauty that still surrounds us. For the record, I had the ice cream! Went back for seconds!


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad to have had you along in your imagination, Bill! The turtles didn’t last long, by the way, once I was home! They’re about the only thing that supersedes ice cream!


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