I wrote this two years ago, but it's a nice reminder to present-day me to get outside more...even when it isn't brunch-on-the-patio weather. Jude and I might just have to bundle up and take a walk in the snow later!
If you asked me if I love our planet, I would say, without a moment's hesitation, “Of course!" I recycle. I upcycle. I bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and I fill them with organic produce. I buy low-energy, high-efficiency lightbulbs even though I love the dim, yellowy light of the old kind better. I use natural cleaning products and wash lots of cloth napkins and extra dish towels with my sulfate-free detergent to minimize my usage of paper towels. But you know what? For someone who loves Mother Earth, I don't tend to spend a lot of quality time with her anymore. If it's a pretty day, I'll drive with my windows down. I'll sit out on the deck to answer my emails instead of in the living room. Maybe I'll have brunch at a place with a patio, or go to Home Depot and buy some plants that I'll inevitably kill, sometimes before even getting them into the actual ground. But I don't go hiking. My picnic basket only gets used if there's some kind of outdoor urban event that turns a blind eye to people who bring wine and cheese to public parks. I don't really seek out nature. Especially not if it's under 70 degrees outside.
I've been thinking a lot lately about how much I'd like to change that. And yesterday, I took a step in the right direction. A lot of steps, actually. More than I planned on taking. But I was wearing semi-sensible shoes, so who's counting?
There's a little park a couple of miles from our house. I've driven by it every day for the past 6 years. I went there once, a couple of years ago, and I never made it past the picnic table second closest to the parking lot. Yesterday, on a whim supported by a thousand other unrealized whims, I pulled over on my way home and went to that park. Yesterday. With a windchill of 20 degrees and the first snow of the season still sparkling on the shady parts of the grass. Despite all this, I climbed out of my warm car and started walking down a little paved trail that seemed designed for that purpose. Within the first 10 minutes, I realized that for the first time in probably years, I was actually, legitimately COLD. Usually the only thing that gets me through the walk from my parking spot to the grocery store in the wintertime is the knowledge that I can get Starbucks as soon as I'm inside. But there I was, walking away from warmth ON PURPOSE.
In all fairness, I thought I was walking in a circle. After all, isn't that the way paved trails in parks are supposed to work? You trot around the perimeter, pretend you're farther away from civilization than you are, and then before you know it, without ever having to make the decision to turn around, you're right back where you started. So I walked, and I took pictures on my iPhone (because even our memories need backup files, right…and if a tree is being beautiful in the forest and no one's there to Instagram it, did the beauty ever really happen?), and I stopped minding that I couldn't feel the tip of my nose, or my upper lip, or my ears. I put my hands in my pockets and I walked. I walked past picnic tables, and charcoal grills, and trash cans. I walked past a woman crying by herself in her car. I walked over a rusty, rickety bridge. I walked past a fenced in dog park. I walked past trees, all kinds of trees, trees with bright white bark and no leaves left at all, trees with crisp, orange foliage still clinging to delicate branches, dark evergreens with clusters of blue berries, trees that were dying, trees that were hollow, and saplings just beginning to realize they were trees at all. I walked past cold, clear water chasing something bigger than the creek it was in. I walked past train tracks, visible and then not and then visible again, woven through the trees and hills above me. I walked on pavement, and grass, and dense, solid earth just beginning to freeze around the edges. I walked under piercingly blue sky and cold sunlight.
I walked, and I walked, until the trail became more tunnel-like with trees and brush, and I thought for certain that the loop would have to start curving back around toward the parking lot soon, and then suddenly, unceremoniously, I was deposited on a road. I immediately knew I was on a road and not a trail anymore because a pickup truck came roaring up behind me. My iPhone battery died. I kept walking. I think I was still convinced that this road was only a temporary break in the trail. I wasn't ready to let go of the idea that I was going in a circle. So I walked. Past beer cans, and cigarette butts, and a stick-on toenail. Past a dead squirrel. I walked past worn out houses and trailers, abandoned by time, but not by their inhabitants. I walked past sun-faded hobby horses, broken swing sets, lawn ornaments that seemed unaware of the Civil Rights Movement, wheelchair ramps, and satellite dishes that weren't attached to roofs. I walked past wind chimes, and porch swings, and rose bushes. I walked past cars on blocks and brand new cars and cars with personalized license plates and cars with no license plates. I walked past a landscaping business. I walked past a church. I didn't see any people at all, except for the driver of the pickup truck at the very beginning of real road. It was all right that my cell phone battery was dead, because the place behind the park wasn't a place I should have taken pictures anyway. But I'm glad I was there. I'm glad I saw it.
Then I saw the the highway. Unless I wanted to walk for a mile alongside four lanes of traffic, there was no “loop" at all. So I turned around. And I walked past everything again. Past the timeworn homes, and the wind chime sounds, and the swings, and the satellite dishes. Past the dead squirrel, and the garbage, and the toenail. I walked back into the tunnel-y part of the park trail, past the dog park, past the trees, over the bridge, and all the way back to the parking lot. The crying woman was gone. My face felt completely frozen and unquestionably alive, all at once. My hands were making fists in my pockets trying to hold in warmth. As I turned my car on and glanced at the clock, I realized I'd been walking for over an hour. Me. On a freezing cold day, without so much as a grande soy latte to sustain me. I drove the two miles home with my window down, not ready to let go of the cold air and the exhilaration of voluntarily letting it come into contact with my skin.
I'm still going to watch too much TV. I'm still going to get cold while running errands and reward myself with expensive coffee. I'm still going to choose comfort over adventure more often than I feel really good about. But today, even though it's still cold, I'm going for another walk. Even if it's only a short one. And tomorrow, I'm going to do it again. I might even buy hiking boots for the first time since high school. And I might even wear them to hike. Because I love this planet. And I plan on getting reacquainted with it, one step at a time.