On a recent Monday when I went out for a walk, I decided to take the paths in Wisdom Prairie. I feel as if I know intimately the paths around the lake, past the gardens, through the woods and out into the North Mendota Prairie unit. I said to myself, “I need to find my way in the new prairie.” I’ve walked the trails in Wisdom Prairie a few times and helped to seed sections of it, but I don’t know it as well as I know the rest of the grounds. Walking the land is often a time of prayer for me. There are many places on the monastery grounds where I have met God and myself in such a way that the prairie plants and grasses, the apple trees, pine woods, and oak forest, Lost Lake and the garden and the view of Lake Mendota feel like an intimate part of my life and my community. I don’t yet have that relationship with Wisdom Prairie. So I set out.
I started on my usual route which took me past Lost Lake. Immediately I noticed the berm that the construction workers have erected on the other side of the lake. They are installing a sewer line across our property to connect with the Bishop’s Bay communities where construction is beginning. I slowed my pace to get a good look. I don’t know whether the berm is permanent or just a temporary measure to enable the equipment to cross our property. It looks permanent. I felt a pang of sadness because the landscape that is dear to me had changed.
As I continued my walk, I became aware of the constant sound of heavy machinery interspersed with the periodic ring of back-up alarms from the equipment. We have been hearing the sound of the machinery in the monastery for over a week now. I can hear it in my office as I write this. My sadness deepened. I know the sound isn’t temporary. The construction is just beginning. It will take years to complete the 5,000 units being built in the development just north of the monastery. I can imagine that eventually, the sounds I hear on my walks will be that of playing children and barking dogs and families having fun. But first comes the sound of construction which drowns out the silence of the monastery.
I stopped at the top of the hill and broke into tears at the beauty of the sun sparkling on Lake Mendota and the colors of the fall trees across the lake. I broke into tears because I love this place and it is changing. I need to mourn the losses I feel.
Crossing over into Wisdom Prairie, I found some familiar prairie plants and grasses. I felt glad to see them along with others I don’t recognize in their autumn clothing. I noticed that the soil here is quite rocky. The path in Wisdom Prairie is rockier than the familiar grass covered paths I’m used to. I came to a large rock pile next to the path in the middle of the field. Someone had done quite a bit of work already moving the largest rocks from the area to prepare the soil for the prairie seeds. I added a couple of big rocks to the pile.
I turned and looked over at the monastery from the middle of the prairie. I didn’t hear the machinery as loudly as before or maybe I had gotten used to it as I have gotten used to my tinnitus. I thought to myself, “Walking in Wisdom Prairie gives me a new perspective on the monastery. Maybe it won’t be so bad. There is beauty on this side. There are paths and new places to explore and pray.” I continued on my walk.
Benedict writes that his rule is for beginners. Benedictines understand this as a call to be willing to begin again and again. My prayer-walk was another step on this path of beginning.