Congratulations to Kate Manning for Winning the October 2023 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

Describe what your city or town looks like during the month of October.

Kate shared a vivid description of the world she knows she’s privileged to see, thanks to one small intervention. Enjoy her winning submission:


A letter from Saint Paul
By Kate Manning

Kate Manning
Kate Manning

A river runs through my city, the Mississippi. Along the banks in downtown Saint Paul you can see the autumn leaves starting to turn, dotting the banks with splashes of gold, orange, and dusty peach in a sea of green. The sky’s pale blue is mirrored in the river as gentle waves glide under the high bridge past the Science Museum of Minnesota.

As I walk past downtown plantings, I see red and gold marigolds against red brick buildings. I am partially colorblind, red and green. It’s called deutan. I put on my color-corrective glasses and the world explodes with colors I cannot see without them, namely shades of amber, orange, red, and deep purple. The construction cones pop out and are no longer dull. The lines that I thought were grayish yellow turn amber, a shade I hadn’t seen before. I pass a sign at a pizza place with a black background, black lettering that says “Hot City Pizza” on a circle of gradient orange to red. I now see all the colors differentiated, including orange, on rainbow flags.

I arrive at my favorite garden space with a gazebo. In the afternoon sun the leaves are like stained glass against a deep true blue sky with a contrast I have never seen before. I know now why orange and blue are complementary colors. Behind the hedge in the garden I see spent lily stalks of chartreuse and gold, bright red dahlias with yellow centers buzzing with yellow-and-black bumblebees whose wings glint in the sun. A gray brown statue of Saint Francis with birds on it watches over the gazebo. As I walk on the tan limestone pavers, the late afternoon sunlight casts lattice-shaped shadows through deep bluish-purple flowers illuminating the tan-tinged golden brown pinecones on a bed of dead reddish pine needles glinting in the sun. As I walk the path to the green beyond, there are dusty pink and lemon yellow spider mums on either side. Beautiful… I thought it was beautiful when I came here for inspiration in music before. Now I know what I was missing. Same city, new lens, new view.

In the green on the way to the pond there are large trees kissing the sky with a top gradient of gold to deep orange ending in burnt sienna on deep charcoal gray branches. Below the chapel of Saint Catherine lies a pond with a fountain. The spray is like a diamond rainbow in midair, forming a cross on the water as the water drops. The Canada geese and mallard ducks are swimming in formation, creating V-shaped waves and a herringbone pattern on the water, interrupting the pattern from the fountain.

Many times as I see new color shades with my new lenses, I am moved to cry because of the beauty that was always there but that I couldn’t perceive. I am grateful I can now.