RED WING -- Chelsea DesAutels has always been a poet, but she had a career in law before a health scare prompted her to revisit what she wanted to do with her life.
She’s focusing on creative writing now. And as part of her artist residency this month at the Anderson Center, DesAutels will share her poetry and her love for the rural landscape during a Poetry Walk at Colvill Park.
The official event is at 4 p.m. Aug. 27 but the poems already are in place for people who want to explore the pathway on their own.
Anyone walking the wooded loop on the east end of the city park will see a dozen signs on sticks alongside the paved trail. The first and last signs – depending where you start the walk – contain basic information, while original poetry is printed on the 10 in between signs.
At the end of the Aug. 27 walk, she’ll talk briefly and answer questions. The signs will come down, as she will be leaving Red Wing at the end of the month.
DesAutels grew up in the Black Hills but Minneapolis is her birthplace and now her home. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School and had a successful career as an attorney in the Twin Cities.
Five years ago, about six months after giving birth to a daughter, June, she sought treatment for a cough. Doctors discovered that while she was pregnant some cells had turned into cancer, which spread from her uterus to both lungs.
Fortunately, her daughter was a full-term, healthy baby.
However, DesAutels said, “Being sick like that gave me an opportunity to step back.” She realized that she was not happy working in law, and thought about her lifelong interest in writing poetry.
“It didn’t feel right to me to go through that experience and then just go back to life as normal,” she said.
With support from her husband, Zac, she applied for graduate school as a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts. When she completed chemotherapy, the three of them packed up and moved to Houston, Texas, for three hard years.
Returning to Minnesota last summer, DesAutels said, “felt like walking into the sunshine after seeing a sad movie.”
She has finished her first book of poetry, “Metastasis,” which explores her experience with cancer.
“Perhaps more important,” she wrote, “the manuscript asks questions about place, risk, loyalty, spirituality, motherhood, the female body, ecofeminism, environmental dangers, and memory.”
While at the Anderson Center this month, she is writing poems that pick up where that part of the story left off. “I am asking new, harder questions,” she said. Minnesota, both urban and rural areas, is featured prominently.
“I feel so lucky,” DesAutels said. “I love this work. I have significantly more time to spend with my daughter,” and she is able to do some teaching.
“I get to think and work with language,” she concluded. "That’s sort of a dream.”
She chose poems from her manuscript to replicate on signs for the poetry walk. A few deal with the cancer experience; others touch on relationships of women, the natural world, marriage and parenthood.
DesAutels plans to also share a few of her new poems during the event.
“I’ve been walking on the Cannon Valley Trail every day,” she said. “A lot of those images turn up in the poems I am writing here at the Anderson Center.” And it’s been a productive month, she noted. “All you have to think about is your work.”
The poetry walk is free and open to everyone, but in order to ensure physical distancing, the group walking with her will be limited to under a dozen. People who want to participate should register on the Anderson Center Website, www.andersoncenter.org.
Participants will gather on the southeast end, near the boat ramp. Masks are required. The walk will conclude on the northeast end, where lawn chairs will be set up for the artist's talk.
If you go …
Who: Chelsea DesAutels
What: Poetry Walk
When: 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27
Where: Colvill Park walking path, 507 Nymphara Lane, Red Wing
How much: Free, but preregister
More info: www.andersoncenter.org or 651-388-2009