Along the Water’s Edge

When searching for balance and serenity, Jill Nebeker finds it along the urban shores of Lake Monona where Williamson Street meets downtown.

When searching for balance and serenity, Jill Nebeker finds it along the urban shores of Lake Monona where Williamson Street meets downtown.

I live just off of the Capitol square, so Madison’s downtown is my extended living room. But it’s not the Capitol or the campus where I find myself most often. It’s not even James Madison Park or State Street. Instead, it’s that little strip of pavement skirting Lake Monona where John Nolen Drive meets Williamson St

On a Sunday evening, when I want to catch up with family, I walk to the bike path and take a seat on one of the picnic tables. I call home and we talk about the weather, who will host my grandparents’ 60th anniversary party, when my next trip home will be. I watch the lake as we talk. A muskrat ferries sticks and grass from the shore over to a nest on nearby rocks. A quick splash and before I can look up, the fish that made it is long gone. Much better than Sunday night television.

Last summer, when friends Alix and Max passed through town, I took them to Machinery Row. I love this building. I can picture the wheeling and dealing that took place in the early 1900s as farm equipment changed hands. Now it houses the restaurant Sardine and business and office spaces. And of course, there’s Machinery Row Bicycles, which was what we were after. We rented matching blue Gary Fishers and off we went. We rounded the lake, then went up a small dirt trail and out onto a pier. Alix took out her camera and I offered to take a picture, but she declined. She first wanted a self-shot photo of her and the Madison skyline.

It’s no surprise that last Saturday morning again found me on the bike path. Tricked by all the weekday wake-up times, I got up early. I walked to the Monona Terrace and planted myself under the awning on a small median that divides the bike and pedestrian lanes. I pulled out a little notebook I have for things I want to remember. I wrote about how the sun warmed my hair until it was hot to the touch, and how it had also warmed the things in my head so they could spill onto the paper.

Even in 2003, before I lived downtown, I was drawn to this place. I had been in Madison about four months when Deb and Joseé, contagiously in love and wanting to spread it, visited. It was early November and already sweater-scarf-and-hat weather. They wondered how this thing called the Midwest could have such a hold on me. I took them to the Terrace, where the sky matched the wash of the building and across the lake, a full moon rose. It was dusk and we had the entire place to ourselves. We snuggled together and took pictures of the lake and moon behind us before the cold sent us back to the car. They were convinced Madison was doing right by me. I had to agree, they were right.