and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.
it was breathtakingly beautiful.
snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.
everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.
stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.
and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.
“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)
one mention of jack-in-the-pulpit and i was back at blydenburgh park in smithtown. it didn’t take much to find myself in the woods, hiking along the nissequogue river, by the pond. camera in hand, early spring, looking for the earlybirds of the season. jack-in-the-pulpit didn’t disappoint, flowering shortly after my birthday, spotted on muddy hikes on brisk days.
i remember bike-hiking there, with susan. i just googled it and the county park was only 6.6 miles from my growing-up house. we would ride bikes everywhere. our destination of choice – most of the time – was crab meadow beach, but you know that. even in the winter, when handlebar-turned-down-10-speeds were impossible, my trusty little bug would get me there, to that beach. i would walk and walk and walk. the shoreline is a good place to think, to grow, sandy step by sandy step.
last friday – as it approached the end of the workday – we looked at each other. “fridaynightdatenight,” we tossed into the kitchen. as the hour wore on, we pondered what to do – on this datenight. an iffy-weather day, we didn’t bundle up late afternoon for a hike or even a walk. we were looking forward to making a big stockpot of soup, glass of wine in hand. we have three books we are mutually reading. we are binge-watching new amsterdam. dogga was at our feet in the kitchen. it was a cozy fridaynight.
the next day we hiked. because we really do love to be outside on a trail.
and the more i hike, the more i remember hiking.
but somewhere along the way, i stopped.
i didn’t hike. i didn’t take long walks.
and i am somewhat astounded to think about that now.
but not everyone likes to be on a trail or even a sidewalk, for that matter. not everyone likes to merely take-a-walk in the company of someone they love.
i didn’t realize how much i missed blydenburgh park and crab meadow beach and millneck manor and planting fields arboretum and smith’s point park and hoyt farm nature preserve – places so very familiar to me because i walked them – again and again – until i started memorizing the des plaines river trail and the van patten woods and bristol woods and allendale sidewalks along the lakefront.
that’s when i realized how much i had missed, how much each step on trails feeds me – nearby, or in the high mountains of colorado or the smoky mountains of north carolina, along the easternmost long island beaches or in the woods of upstate ny state parks or in the red rock of utah.
the trees were submerged in the river; there had been some mild flooding. i know these trees. we’ve watched them through seasons on saturdaydatehikes or latemondaytuesdaywednesdaythursdayafternoondatenights. we’ve attached to this trail and it feels as if it remembers us as we pass along it. soon, i think i’ll look for jack-in-the-pulpit, just in case. it would likely bloom later here than in blydenburgh park. spring is later here.
as i bent way down, camera in hand, to shoot through the mulch at the river, i was transported back to that suffolk county park, camera always in hand. and it made me think about all the years i had not stepped foot on a trail, had not walked-until-blisters, had not watched the water rise and fall on rivertrees or glimpsed jack-in-the-pulpit in the underbrush.
i wonder about what those decades of trails would have looked like, what mountains i may or may not have climbed, what roiling rivers i might have entered or not entered, what out-of-breath conversations would have taken place, what problems sorted, what challenges summited, what decisions made, what disasters averted, what center might have been out there, what wisdom trails may have gifted me, what might be different.
“in every walk of nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” (john muir)
i’m glad to have found my way back.
walks of nature.
blydenburgh park is 898 miles from here. crab meadow beach is 908. smith’s point park is 924. upstate new york around 1000. the smoky mountains are 739. the high mountains of colorado are 1237. moab et al is 1511. all on the list of places to return to. places to hike, to walk.
but bristol woods is 13 miles and the des plaines river trail is 12. and either of those is a worthy handinhand fridaynightdatenight.
it lay in the snow, the last of the sun’s rays dancing across it. it was merely a single pinecone. but the sun drew me to it and the way the light played on it called attention to the texture. up close and personal, it is a painting.
reading reveals that pinecones are the safe place for the seeds of the tree, that pinecones can remain on a tree for even ten years, that pine cones open and close depending upon moisture. more complex than you might think.
though ever-important for the proliferation of pine trees, pinecones are one of those things we pass by, often not noticing. what else are we missing – passing by the ordinary, not stopping to really look.
because we know our favorite trail well, we see the tiny shifts, the changes, the transformation. we watch the light play on the cattails and marsh grasses and catch the shadows as they fall. if one note in the woods is different, one tint of color, we draw up, stop. there are days we are stopping often, capturing the transitions, watchful.
we don’t buy a lot of new things. we are sorely behind the fashion curve – i suspect our target jeans are a few years behind-the-times. instead, we accumulate these moments of noticing. our breath is not connected to the facets of diamonds, but rather to the way underbrush berries stand out against the snow. we don’t reach for the keys of a porsche; we reach for our backpack to take on the trail. we do not watch a larger-than-life screen tv; our big-screen of choice is outside.
we look for the paintings in the snow, in the sky, in the stand of trees. we listen for the song of the breeze, of wildlife sharing space with us. the wind stings our cheeks and makes the tips of our fingers burn. we are grateful for the quiet and this path through the forest, across the marsh, along the river.
we immerse in the 3D canvas nature is providing us. no virtual reality needed.
in a weekend of weather whiplash, it was stunningly beautiful out. the temperatures reached the fifties, the sun was out, the snow was melting, the breezes were mostly gentle. we spent most of the weekend outside. it was revitalizing – in a week we particularly needed a bit of revitalizing.
we usually take the trails – and stay on them – but this was a week of off-trailing. we trudged our way through the marsh, feet sloppy wet, laughing, just so i could get a good picture of the stand of birch. it put us in territory we hadn’t been and the geese stared at us, wondering what we were doing there. miles later, it was no wonder our legs were tired, but oh-so-worth-it.
and then – something caught my attention sticking up from the dried straw of marsh grasses. i reached down to look at it more closely and drew in my breath. a set of three-point antlers. likely not seen by anyone except us. just touching their smoothness we could imagine the white-tailed deer that had shed them. i took pictures and laid the antlers back down in the marsh, knowing that’s where they belonged.
in the days we have hiked since that day, we have seen many deer in the woods and fields. sunday was a gift of a day – alone on the trail, we had so many visits we lost count. gentle faces peered out of the brush at us – we all stood still, silent. these beautiful creatures of grace and intuition and agility, so welcome as reminders to us. they were – seemingly – everywhere around us – off the trail by the river, in the woods next to the trail, crossing our path time and again, watching us. they knew we meant them no harm; we didn’t even move to photograph them. we just watched and our heartbeats slowed down, worries abating in these shared moments.
antlers are said to signify strength, determination, alertness, and protection. in a time during which i need strength, determination, alertness and protection, i will carry them with me – in my mind’s eye. the balance of things of beauty and things from which we would choose to shield ourselves…the deer are powerful nudges to remember both exist, to be gentle with oneself, to move with conviction, to be devoted to truth and not be mired in others’ agendas, to stand – even antlerless – in grace.
littlebabyscion wore the lighted tree like a sparkling bejeweled crown. the tree was the guide back to our little xb in a very crowded parking lot. littlebabyscion wore it proudly.
i’m not much of a hat-wearer. i have those 180-earmuffs and wear those mostly. i think that my face looks like a smushed pear if i wear a hat and – the other day when i tried to describe to david what my hair does when i pull on a hat – i could only verbalize it with sounds – like mwuhhh! – the sound that might demonstrate the smushing down of long hair around my long face pulled over my long forehead. goodness! so.much.long. not enough round.
i gaze around at how very delightful other gals look in hats. i mean, some women wear hats like there’s no tomorrow. stunning, adorable, beguiling, you-name-it…they can really carry off a hat. me? i have a nordic face and my thank-you-poppo-dad’s forehead and the non-thick blonde hair of someone in my ancestry. not to mention these jowls that appeared a year or so ago. don’t worry…i won’t go on and on about those again. i am vowing to go on and on less. to me. to others. to the universe. my jowls are teaching me a lesson. “be less jowlish,” they say. i will leave it to you to decide what that means. for i do not want to go on and on.
so, suffice it to say, a crown would not be my best accessory. an adornment such as that sort of requires thick hair that doesn’t really tousle easily. i fail on both accounts. i do not wake like women waking in movies. (nor do they, i suspect.) instead, i wake and look like i have pretty much slept on my head or have sleep-wandered outside and found myself in a windstorm before moseying back under the covers. clearly i am a peaceful sleeper.
i do love the idea of a hat, though. and back in the day – during the forehead-bangs of the 1990s – i wore many a fine hat. a flat-brimmed black felt hat, a kelly green felt upturned-brim bucket hat, a paddy cap, a cowboy hat…once on, they were my companions for the whole entire day as hat-hair is a thing to which one does not want to expose others. it was my millinery period of time and i still have the hats in hatboxes in my studio closet. one never knows when hat-juju might strike.
and so, the two winter hats i have call my name every now and then.
we got out of littlebabyscion to go hike the trail. it was cold and really damp, a deep chill. i pulled the hat-with-the-biggest-pompom-you’ve-ever-seen over my head and reveled in the instant warmth. there is definitely something to be said about this whole-head-hat-thing as opposed to the 180s.
i pulled on my miracle mittens, looked at my reflection in the car window and began to walk away from the parking lot.
but not before i could hear littlebabyscion stifling a guffaw, trying hard not to laugh.
it would appear that a giant angel was hula-hooping in the clouds and dropped their hula hoop, which landed in the upper branches of a tree at the botanic garden. or, perhaps, that a spaceship -with no defined interior- had dropped down for a visit. or, maybe, there was a filming of sesame street’s “the letter ‘o'” about to do another take. brightly lit hula hoops of neon light suspended in trees, they cast an eerie glow onto the frozen ground, onto the path. michael bublé sang “walking in a winter wonderland” and we found ourselves inside the magic.
there is definitely something to wandering paths amongst many other people all oohing and ahhing. i had vowed to myself to leave my camera in my purse, but it wasn’t minutes before i failed at this. there were just so many colors and textures to remember, so dreamy. vast installations of creative lighting.
we had hoped to go. the ticket cost was a little prohibitive but we decided – when we woke and new year’s day was to be a little more mild than it had been – to splurge.
we were stunned even at the entrance to the garden, the trees wrapped in lights, every single branch and twig gleaming. we moseyed along the path, pulling over to let groups of people by so that we could be somewhat alone as we strolled.
but this wasn’t a silent and solitary hike in the woods. it was a performance piece we all took in together. each person’s glee added to ours and, dropping all expectations and all analysis of how-do-they-do-that, we were caught up in the captivating displays.
we already have a plan for next year. there are snacks and beverages and fire pits, places to linger, places to immerse. i could stand and watch the water and light “all i want for christmas” over and over and over. i allowed myself to wonder what a garden would look like lit to a piece of my own music.
we talked about our favorite displays driving the backroads. though spaceship fantasies are not my thing, hula hoops definitely are in my wheelhouse and the hulahooplights made my list. by the time we got home we realized that we had listed all of the displays we had seen, each design extraordinary, a celebration of the marriage of color and light and and sound and garden.
our late-night snack had a different air. the gift of being outside in the cold. the gift of beauty. the gift we had given ourselves – permission to splurge a little. a new year and its new intentions.
“we’re guided by the spaces in-between the facts,” she stated. and then continued, “instinct, faith…”
standing outside, inside the beauty of creative lighting, feeling as if we were somewhere between graphic and real, it was easy to wrap around these words. the spaces in-between, the rests between the notes, the white space, even the kerning. all the space in-between counts.
the moments of instinct – action based on sheer gut. the moments of faith – action based on exposed heart.
joey is back. every now and again he is posting a wild country backpacking trip. we are somewhat relieved to see him again; he hadn’t been around in a long time and we weren’t the only ones who seemed worried. we watched him pull out maps and trail books and choose the space in-between all of it, the wilderness through which he could instinctively find his way. joey coconato’s guiding star is not conventional. maybe that’s why we love to watch him.
the fulcrum of balance in daily life is a challenge. balancing the very real needs of living – paying bills, staying healthy, doing good work – with the very real needs of living – the moments, the recognition of time flying by, the autograph we leave behind. in-between the stuff of accumulated years we seek the space of minimal. in-between the daily barrage of tasks we seek the space of quiet. in-between the challenges and troubles we seek the space of grace, of peace.
there is the day we stand in the kitchen – each arguing for our “side” of the story, full-steam ahead fueled by accumulated stress and anxiety – when we look out the window and it has begun to snow. suddenly, there is air, a little space. suddenly the facts-of-the-matter seem less important. suddenly we realize that this moment of discontent counts too – and, just as suddenly, we realize we are tossing the heart out with the angst.
we read an article written by a philosopher/psychologist in finland. he referenced that “for five years in a row, finland has ranked no. 1 as the happiest country in the world”. since david and 20 are constantly trying to convince me to move to finland, i thought it in my best interest to read this article. surely it would shed light on why those sisu folks are so darn happy.
there were three basic tenets. the first – “we don’t compare ourselves to our neighbors.” the second – “we don’t overlook the benefits of nature.” the third – “we don’t break the community circle of trust.”
just reading those made me think – for pretty obvious reasons – that the united states of america is doomed to unhappiness. i sighed. it would seem that finns walk in the spaces in-between more than we all do. I am hoping my quarter-finnish ancestry will help me list that way.
so how do we find the balance point, i wonder, that space between.
walking at the chicago botanic garden – in the middle of graphics and lights and magic and real-live-nature called “lightscape” – helped. the way home was a smorgasbord of holiday lights and displays. we passed lake bluff’s stunning square, all green and blue and twinkling white lights.
we arrived home, grateful to have taken the space in-between everything else – the worries, the busy, the not-enoughs – to appreciate awe without measure, to be outside on a cold winter’s night, to delight in what we saw surrounded by strangers who delighted with us.
and they dreamed dreams and waited in the woods…winterberries with visions of becoming maraschino cherries in their mind’s eye…actualizing with starring roles in traditional wisconsin brandy old-fashioneds…
no, no. do not put winterberries in your old-fashioned. they are completely toxic. but they are striking and unexpected. and the color in the woods is intoxicating. gorgeous red punctuating a dim brown-grey, save for a few evergreen, they are clustered beautiful.
it had been a while, what with the freezing temperatures and snow. we finally made it out to our favorite trail and it was – truly – a breath of fresh air. there is nothing quite as restorative as hiking, surrounded by stillness and the sound of wind rustling through the tops of trees. we needed to get outside. we slogged through the trails, getting a better workout than usual. the mud splashed up onto the back of our jeans, like when you ride your bike in the rain. we reveled in it.
the deer tracks went across the path. they hadn’t been there the first time we passed through. it was early in the day, early for the deer to be moving around, but we started looking through the brush.
her sweet face was staring right at us, her body blending into the scrub and trees around her. we stood, gazing at each other, none of us moving. i slowly took my phone out to capture what i knew would be hard to discern in a photograph – this deer in the woods, this shared moment of time. she didn’t move, but her tail wagged and her ears pitched forward and back, listening. i was hoping she could hear the words i whispered to her – telepathically, a little dr. doolittle-ish. her continued gaze at us, grace for our presence, her head held high, no obvious fear. unexpected.
she never left the spot while we were standing there. she took a few steps but didn’t flee, as so often happens when you start to move in the forest. we blew her a kiss and continued on, feeling lucky to have seen her and to have spent a few minutes with her.
we passed more winterberry holly as we hiked, laughing about old-fashioneds and marveling at our new deer friend in the woods.
we exited the trail, none too anxious to leave, wanting to just linger.
“sometimes,’ said pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” (a.a. milne)
it’s some time after sundown – the time we have declared happy hour. we aren’t at a bar or a lounge or a restaurant or a pub. if we are lucky, we are outside somewhere – in the woods, on a trail, even in our backyard sitting by the pond in the last wee bit of waning sunlight.
these days – when cold gets through our fleece quarter-zips and vests – we are likely to be found at the happy-lit table in front of the window in our sunroom, dogga by our feet. we will put a christmas tree out there on the deck and it will add festivity to the string of lights out back.
in these last days we have encountered major stress. i mean, what couple hasn’t? we have returned to a place of unemployment. there is a big sense of loss, there is anger, there is tremendous angst. though no fault of ours – the company closed its doors entirely – there is also some embarrassment…to be back here. all of this – loss, anger, angst, embarrassment – adds up to shorter tempers than usual and some listing on the side of hopeless, incredulous. all of that – i wouldn’t be honest if i didn’t say it – adds up to some ugly moments. we are struggling to stay balanced, to stay even. this is our story. we know everyone has one.
so we instituted a new rule. a survival rule. during happy hour – regardless of beverage – spirits or not – we will list the gratitudes of the day. from the tiniest morsel to bigger wins, we are taking turns remembering the day and all it brought and we are choosing to speak to the kindnesses, the beauty, the accomplishments, the striving, even the bite of flax-4-life brownie. anything. nothing is measured. nothing is off the table. it all counts.
so as the sun goes down on the trail and we haul to the finish as quickly as possible, we express gratitude for the palette in the sky, for the leaves crunching under our feet, for being able to get outside, for each other. we choose to let go the hard-hard moments, knowing that being human is a pendulum. there will be surprises of good and surprises of not-good. and, like newton’s cradle pendulum with its perpetual-motion swinging kinetic balls, it will just keep going. back and forth. back and forth.
over here, by one of the great great lakes, it is mostly flat. when you drive a bit south – toward chicago – particularly on the back roads – you will find ravines punctuating the landscape, gorgeous woods with deep cuts, gullies likely carved by streams into glacial moraines with bluffs high above the lake. i can’t imagine choosing the interstate over these roads and, if time allows, we are avid believers in the back ways.
most of the places we hike in our area do not present elevation gain as a challenge. instead, we have to do distance to make up the exercise gap. i’ve been a sea-level-girl pretty much my whole life – from a where-i’ve-lived standpoint – so when we are faced with elevation gain i have to do a bit of acclimatizing to get any kind of mountain legs or lungs. long island, florida, wisconsin – clearly, none of these are known for their mountain peaks.
we hadn’t ever walked the bike trail on the south side of the illinois border. we parked littlebabyscion near the entrance of the bike trail in some neighborhood – much to the chagrin of a woman walking her dog who – clearly – immediately had her suspicions about these two people exiting their vehicle – having parked their good-grief-it’s-a-2006-vehicle-ewww on the end of the road in this upscale ‘hood – for the trail. i started to walk to the trail and went back, wrote a cheery note “hi. we are just walking on the bike path,” finished it with a happy face and placed it in full view in the windshield. for the first hour or so of hiking i worried if we would get back to an empty space where our sweet littlebabyscion had been and a note to call the tow company. (it was with relief we later returned to find our little vehicle and another parked there as well.)
we crossed the wisconsin-illinois border and found the straight and narrow. illinois does a remarkable job of trail upkeep, no matter where we have found one, no matter the terrain. we kept walking. and walking. and walking. it was a beautiful day and easy to lose sight of the time or distance. we had water and halos and lemon lärabars. we were set.
we looked at the bike trail maps. though there are sections that are harder to define – one must find one’s way from one defined trail to another – you can pretty much walk or bike all the way to chicago.
we giggled and decided we would section-hike to chicago. it will be practice for the possibility of section-hiking or thru-hiking the john muir trail or the PCT. uh-huh. because walking on a bike trail – near civilization, without elevation gain, without 30 pounds on our backs, with littlebabyscion patiently waiting for us and our kitchen and comfy bed at the end of the day – is definitely good practice for say 211 miles or 2650. oh ye of little faith. whatever.
we turned around after checking time and the mileage and the forecasted hour of sunset. the way back – like the previous day on the des plaines river trail – i thought about how many miles we would complete that day, in a few hours. i doubled it and tripled the time and pondered doing that day after day for weeks or – in the case of the PCT – months.
it has a magical dreamy lure. there is no straight and narrow out there. there is hard work and perseverance. and we – watchers of more youtube video accounts than most – ponder if we could do it. we are fueled by people like the remarkable (!) wander women and, really, anyone, say, over 60 we watch successfully navigate the challenges. we think aloud – “maybe someday.”
in the meanwhile there is work to do, a plan to piece back together again post-implosion, and section-hikes to chicago.