My blessings have been counted, recounted and then counted once more. Since mid-March, my family, friends and I have stayed healthy and employed. Yes, I have become angry, I have mourned and I have questioned what everything means. However, as it relates to COVID-19, the spring, summer and fall have been okay. The pace to my life was slower and more relaxed than usual, in part because so many of the activities I enjoy were cancelled. I swapped out time I would have spent driving to and watching my kids’ activities for spending a lot of time outside with friends. I rode my bike a few times a week. The front porch was used more than ever before. The time I’ve spent in rush-hour traffic evaporated.


Since mid-March, when TPT sent employees home to work remotely, I have worked in the space that used to be a seldom-used dining room, but now the 11- by 7-foot area is my home office and, according to my timesheets, it gets used between 38 and 43 hours per week. It’s comfortable. The set up is as good as it can be, and I am fortunate to have this amount of space dedicated to being able to do my work.

Since my new office is located right off the kitchen, right around the lunch hour, peace and quiet is about as easy to find as it is working in a bullpen with three other cube mates. But being able to eat lunch with my family is something I should not take for granted.

Speaking of cube mates, I sure do miss Nastja, Steve and Alyssa. I would be hard-pressed to find a more fun group of colleagues.

The home office, all 77 square feet of it.


Back when I could work at work, I would find myself looking out over Kellogg Boulevard, or down Jackson Street, at the Mississippi in Saint Paul when I needed to get away from my computer. Sometimes a walk through the skyway, or a few minutes in an employee lounge, would give me the boost I needed to get back at it.

Now that I’m home, I’ve taken the screen out of a window so I have a better view of the birds I am feeding. The deal I have with them is this: They will get a free meal, but they WILL have their pictures taken. No questions asked. I make sure they want for nothing; in return, my Facebook feed is filled with photographs of these finely feathered friends. Watching them frolic for a few minutes is enough to get me back on track when I’m fading.

Snapping a nice photograph of the birds provide as much of a lift – if not more – than a cup of coffee from the TPT lunch room ever did.







Most days, my phone tracks over 10,000 steps. I take a lot of neighborhood walks. I’m noticing which houses are having work done. I see a number of the same people on their morning, afternoon and evening strolls. The distanced nods and shy “hellos” we share speak volumes. We’re sharing in difficult times, and this walk may very well be the space we need at this exact moment. The fresh air, the movement, the daylight, that squirrel, the crunch of leaves, hearing laughter coming from a neighbor’s driveway as children play can all be enough to ground myself, making me slow down to appreciate the smallest of joys. The walks allow me to get out of my own head.

On days I don’t tally the 10,000 steps, it’s because I’m enjoying the evening with friends on the porch. We raise a glass to passersby exchanging pleasantries about how nice the evening is and I break out my oft-used, “We will need to remember what this feels like come February.”

Sitting out on the front porch with my wife was a hidden joy of having the time to slow down.
One of one hundred walks.


So, now what?

February is months away, but we’ve had our first snow. We’ve had days that have stayed below freezing. I feel like ‘it’ is creeping in. Back in March, I felt like we had turned a corner weather-wise. Melting snow banks, leaf buds, greening grass and robins returning from afar lifted a COVID-induced weight off of my shoulders.

Today, as I look out the window, I do see melting snow – but it’s October. The birdbath is frozen over. The springtime robins have been replaced by the cold-weather junkos, and whatever leaves are still on the trees won’t be there much longer.

So, now what?

We are entering a dark time. Will photographing birds I see from my 77 square feet be enough for me as the number of walks I take and happy hours I spend on the porch fade right along with our daylight? I doubt it.

I am going to need to find newness in what has become an old routine.


By rough estimates, there are over 100 parks within 20 miles of downtown Saint Paul. The parks can take the form of city, county, regional and the state variety. In addition to the parks, there are a handful of wildlife management areas, too. There are a lot of places in the Twin Cities to explore, and I have to say, though I have lived here for 45 years, I have been to very few of them.

The COVID-19 fall and winter of 2020 and 2021 is going to provide an excellent opportunity to change this. Over the course of the next few months, I will be using this space to share experiences and photographs from a handful of new-to-me outdoor locations.

I will take the time to notice trees, trails, ponds and creeks. I will do my best to share with you what it feels like to be out in the natural world that is within a short distance of wherever you might be in Twin Cities.

Getting out of the neighborhood and away from this computer screen will undoubtedly do me some good. As I capture the experience and present it to you, my true hope is that you will be reminded, if not encouraged, to seek out some outdoor time for yourself.


Where should I head off to next? I have some ideas, but if you have a favorite outdoor space that is within a short distance of the Twin Cities metro area, I’d love to learn about it. Share your idea in a comments below.


This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.


On a pristine day in October, Twin Cities Producer Luke Heikkila wandered down to Fort Snelling State Park for a few hours of skipping rocks across the Mississippi River. Both the rocks – and the time – flew by. He recounts his experience in this personal essay.

Twin Cities Producer Luke Heikkila also took in the rare experience of witnessing the October 2020 drawdown of the Mississippi River, a sight that got his imagination turning.

Let’s keep rolling, shall we? Luke Heikkila is no stranger to taking in the sights of Minnesota’s famous waterways. In recent history, he ventured north to take in the experience of an angry Lake Superior swept up in a powerful gale that blew in 86-mile-an-hour gusts and sent waves upwards of 20 feet. He even captured video of the occasion.