Hiking Forward Into the Season of Now

“There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir: we must rise and follow her , when from every hill of flame she calls, and calls each vagabond by name.”–William Bliss

Fall is the perfect time for hiking, walking, or simply heading out-of-doors for any sort of physical activity.  The changing landscape, crisp air, and the earthy scents of damp soil, decaying plant matter, and the musky-sweet scent of drifted piles of discarded leaves invigorate the soul.  After sluggish months of heat and humidity, autumn’s sudden drop in temperature is enough to not only add bounce to our step and inspire movement, but also create stirrings within.

Fresh air has a way of plowing the mental landscape into a bucolic pasture of peace and positivity–if only for a short while.  What miraculous logic lies in this seasonal change.  It is as if, by Divine design, that fall provides us with an opportunity to elevate the spirit, boost the body, and clear the consciousness in preparation for the impending darkness of winter months.  

Walking this weekend along a favorite wooded path, I couldn’t help but follow these seasonal musings of my mind.  After a long, exceptionally challenging week, it felt both cleansing and healing to immerse myself in the quietude of nature.  No headset, nor blathering talk; no tedious tasks, nor irksome situations.  Like soaking in a warm, scented bubble bath, stepping onto the wooded path, I immediately felt submerged in the tranquil bathwater of autumn.

Before long, I was lost in the sounds of restless tree branches bouncing in the fall breeze, the humus scent of mulched debris, and the changing hues of leaves and grass.  Of course, my mind does not like to be quiet for long, and soon enough, childlike tantrums for attention interrupted my equanimity.  Without any warning, my mind began stumbling and bumbling through past events instead of anchoring to the present and peace of the surrounding natural world.

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”–Nathaniel Hawthorne

Isn’t memory a curious process?  You can forget about an event, experience, or moment. Then suddenly, as if tripping over a tree root along a smooth forest pathway, you tumble head first right into the past.  Like the long roots of trees, past episodes can be found along our life path, but often we are so focused on moving forward, we overlook those rooted memories that make up the tree of our life. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless we haven’t made peace with certain past events.

In the ideal world, falterings into the past can be easily side-stepped, allowing us to keep moving ahead with ease.  Like the broken limb of a tree, these past happenings may have left us feeling as if a piece of our life was fragmented.  Sometimes, these can be small, mendable, events. Other times they are life-altering occurrences that sever ties with a friend, love, or even family member.  Divorce, death, loss of job/home/income, and other hurts can all leave us feeling as splintered as a proverbial tree trunk. 

At the time, it feels as if we will never be whole again; never able to grow, much less thrive.  However, like the maple tree that lost a major branch in a winter ice storm, our hearts, given time, do heal at the source of the break.  It may take several seasons to fully recover, but similarly to the mighty maple, once recovered, we find we can tap into the sweetness of life again.

Some triggered memories, like a fallen log across the path, can seemingly be foreseen well ahead of time.  It could be a special celebration, a family or friend gathering/reunion, a party, or other organized event.  We see it well in advance–the potential to bump into branches of our past.  Therefore, we deliberate, strategize, and plan how we will not allow ourselves to be tripped up, to fall into past, negative behaviors, or other self-defeating notions.  If we’re fortunate, we trek through the event without a single obstacle tripping us up, and we wonder why we wasted all that time worrying. At other moments, we repeatedly flounder through multiple encounters without ever gaining a steady foothold due to overthinking or over-efforting.

Other memories we stumble across can be simple knee and/or palm scrapers–just a little momentary scuffle.  They are the unforeseen life encounters in which we come face-to-face with our past.  Like that hidden rock along a regular walking path, unearthed by heavy rainfall, we’re confidently moving forward when suddenly a buried memory triggers a brief, but sharp tumble.  Momentarily we are once more wounded, lost in the temporary feeling of pain, but quickly rise, wipe off the proverbial dirt of the past, and keep hiking on.

Then there are those rocky memories.  Those awkward, cringe-worthy moments of impulse, illogical, or otherwise preposterous life hiccups.  Like the rough part of a well-worn rocky path, all lives have these times. In fact, these memories, when randomly run across, can sometimes leave you doubled over with laughter as you fumble through recollections of those bumpy reminiscences. 

Aw, the path of life, like any good hike in the woods, is full of thorny patches, toppling obstructions, and adversarial pitfalls.  Nonetheless, our trails also meander through lush fields of golden moments, wound ‘round bends of colorful times, and over walkways of unexpected joy and bliss.  Through the seasons of memories, all the good and the bad, our life paths keep moving us forward. Thrusting us into the now of our lives. 

Clearing my mind, and shaking out its detritus of the past, I once more returned to the present moment of the autumnal walk. I felt the air brush softly against my cheek and watched a chubby, round-eyed raccoon waddle away from me. I left the past behind on that trail, decided to let the future take of itself, and began to once more soak up the present moment of the fall goodness, one glorious step at a time.  Oh, how I love October.

“I’m so glad we live in a world where there are Octobers.”–L. C. Montgomery, Anne of the Green Gables

A Good Morning Goodbye to Summer

“ . . . Goodnight mush

And goodnight to the old lady whispering “hush” 

Goodnight stars

Goodnight air

Good night noises everywhere”–Margaret Wise Brown from the book, Goodnight Moon, illustrated by Clement Hurd

When my daughter, Madelyn, aka “Maddie,” was a toddler, she had several favorite books with which she played, banged, tugged, and, eventually, pretended to read. One of those favorite titles was Margaret Wise Brown’s, Goodnight Moon.  Of course, as with most children, we went through several phases of “favorite books” that were the bedtime default for, “one more story,” before lights were out.  However, Goodnight Moon was an on again, off again favorite for a couple of years.  There is a reason this 1947 classic children’s story has sold millions of copies and has been translated into numerous languages.

I was reflecting upon those sweet, long ago reading-bedtime-stories-memories and comparing those times within the current context as I made my way through Ritter Park on what was my final week day workout of the summer . . .

Maddie in her extra soft jammies, smelling mildly of soap, her hair slightly damp, her skin soft, pink, and warm, as she wriggled a little closer, imploring me to read, “one more story.”  Reaching for Goodnight Moon for what felt like the thousandth time, I would often change the words of the story to reflect our house, her bedroom, and her surroundings, creating a more personal narrative.  Quite often, Maddie would join in with her own improvisation as well.  

Reading to my daughter is one of those memories that brings tears to my eyes because time seems to have transpired so swiftly.  It feels as if only last week that I was reading those stories, and numerous others, with her.  I didn’t realize then, that as quickly as those page-turning moments were occurring, they were likewise being replaced in the same way Maddie’s bedtime books were changing and evolving. The time of childhood kept moving forward like the plot of her stories. For unlike her storybooks that could be paused or stopped by simply closing the book, time did not then, nor does not now, allow me to stop the story of life from progressing.  Goodnight, Maddie, as a toddler.  

Miss Maddie grew, and with every page turn of life came a new image, a new stage, a new way of saying goodnight.  Giggle-filled toddlerhood seamlessly turned into the carefree days of preschool age, and soon enough the plot evolved into the pleasant days of kindergarten.  As life progressed, cheery days of elementary years were followed by those angsty years of middle school. Next came the plot-twists that belong to the high school years.  Presently, a new page has been turned, with more COVID-related turn-of-events occurring that continue to promote both her personal and academic growth as she makes her way through the challenging college years, especially within today’s state-of-affairs.  

Time just keeps cascading, drumming along, pattering out rhythmic beats of memories.  These snapshot moments of life with our daughter are like the bubbles she created in those early bygone years. Maddie would blow the bubbles into life and then chase those bubbles, trying to “catch” them, but bubbles tend to pop when you try to grasp them.  Instead bubbles are best enjoyed while savoring the creation of each one and then enjoying their flight as they glide through air as shiny kaleidoscopes of joyful color.  However, like my toddler daughter of all those years ago, we often give chase to life, trying to hold onto bubble-like moments of the past or bubbles that might be created in the future, often unaware that current bubbles of life-moments are floating within our view with little personal awareness.  

In some ways, though the pandemic has forced many of us to be more aware of the preciousness of life.  When life as we knew it, came to a screeching halt, or at the very least, drastically slowed down, time spent driving hither and thither was reduced to a bare minimum.  Spending most, to nearly all, of your time at home became the new normal.  The hands of life’s clock tick-tocked to the same rhythm, and yet, felt s-l-o-w-e-r.  Working from home in comfy clothes was the new cool.  John, Maddie, and me, like many that were lucky enough to remain employed or in school, worked from our home battling for wifi and dealing with the imperfection technology; and, truth-be-told, imperfect people since neither John nor I are tech savvy.   Somehow, though, we managed to keep turning those pages of work, school, and life, but it was different, and it seemed to revive the age-old theme for the desire of work-life balance and the importance of spending time with family and loved ones.

Now, as we return to new variations and designs of our work worlds, I have to wonder/worry if we are returning to the proverbial rat race.  While there were, and continue to be, many negatives of living with COVID-19, there were (and are) advantages to quarantining at home.  One of my big takeaways from the experience is that growing desire to strike a greater balance between work life, family, and time spent in meaningful, personal pursuits and/or expressions. COVID has revealed there is more to life than career, and there is likewise much value in time spent with people. While being able to financially support oneself is important, COVID has repeatedly reminded me, and many others, that our time on earth is like those bubbles of Maddie’s youth, elusive, colorful, but short-lived.  I want time to create and savor more meaningful bubbles of life moments.

As I continued down memory lane on that Ritter Park run of last week, I was reminded of the certain situations for which I am/was happy to say goodbye and others for which I am/was glad to say hello with regards to COVID, quarantine, and working from home as well as the positives and negatives of returning to work (school), albeit, with a new way of working and thinking about education and work-life in general.  In my head, Maddie’s Goodnight Moon’s simple verse informed thought bubbles of random rhymes and personal prose . . .

On a great big earth

There was a virus

And a numerous people of worth

And a picture of–

Distractions of media birth

And there were numerous world leaders sitting on chairs

And there were markets

And there were targets

And people were moving

And the bug was stewing

And there was more spread that grew in a rush

And there were even some men who were proclaiming, “hush”

Goodnight school

Goodnight need for much fuel

Goodnight countless people of worth

Hello time at home

Hello best-not-to-roam

Hello extra family time

Hello singing wind chime

Hello work from the table

Hello time for evening cable

Hello bedtime at dark

Hello paths of local parks

Hello time spent in nature

Hello medical danger

Hello life with COVID-19

Hello people on a virtual scene

Goodbye summer months that went by fast

Hello school bells ringing at last

Hello to the students I will see

Hello to the in-person teacher I will be

Goodbye warm lunch peacefully eaten alone.

Goodbye work from home

Hello continued work-friend, Google Chrome

Goodbye quarantine that abounds

Hello, the virus is still around

Hello to spaced out chairs

Hello to continued and fervent prayers

Goodbye work day morning run

Goodbye savoring dawn’s sun

And there’s still no goodbye to men proclaiming, “hush”

Goodbye sweatpants

Goodbye, my growing green plants

Goodbye quarantine life . . .

May this school year and fall 

be safe for all 

Goodbye, fellow morning exerciser, Deborah Garrett who walks an hour and forty minutes most mornings at Ritter Park. She says she “just loves it in Ritter Park.” I hope that I see you from time to time on the weekends. In the meantime, keep on stepping into life!