I finally did it!
Those of you who know me well (or even reasonably so) know that my husband and I would take frequent walks. We were fortunately able to do so on an almost daily basis, as I worked from home, as technically did he.
What started out as simply a way to simply move after being sedentary for far too long, it became a habit, and then much more. It was something we looked forward to, a time that it was just the two of us away from distractions and technology – well, aside from my phone which became a pseudo-camera and morphed into our nature walks often becoming nature photography sessions – and a time for us to talk about anything and everything.
Since suddenly losing A earlier this year, I have found myself unable to go for even a short walk. Anything more than taking Max for a quick jaunt around the neighborhood to do his business was simply too daunting.
I would think about it. I would talk about it. Others would encourage me to get back out there and take my walks. Take more pictures. There were weeks when I thought “this weekend will be the one”. There were mornings I’d wake up and think “today is the day.” But I just couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. Somehow it seemed wrong to walk without my partner.
Yesterday turned out to be “the big day”. Without fanfare, prior planning, or big pep talk, I simply strapped on my sneakers, grabbed my camera, put a leash on Max and out the door we went. The weather couldn’t have been better, sunny and in the high 60s, bright sunshine and cool air.
I drove down to the head of one of our favorite trails. Back when we were walking regularly and had a more open schedule, A and I would sometimes walk to the trail head, as well, but as that walk is over a mile one way before even getting to the trail, and since my goal was to take photographs (and it had been so long since I’d been out there), I chose to drive there.
The walk starts through a large metal gate as the area, until recently, contained a small herd of cattle, but is now grown over by tall grass. After traveling through the rutted path caused by the ranch hands, you pass through another metal gate to a long, pathway lined by trees and swampland on either side. The trees create a canopy that blocks the worst of the wind in cooler weather and provide shade in the hotter months, and had been one of A’s favorite routes. It gave us both a sense of peace being there, as we rarely encountered anyone else. I often referred to it as “the road less traveled”, in reference to Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken.
Upon passing the second gate, I let Max off his leash. Aside from being inside or at the dog park, he doesn’t get to run free in the neighborhood, and he always enjoys being able to fully sprint down the pathway, stopping to sniff here and there.
I stopped here and there to take pictures, to close my eyes and breathe deeply, or simply be in the moment. It felt familiar and strange at the same time to be there, and I found my mind wandering. I fluctuated between remembering how we would enjoy our peaceful togetherness and plan the future, to admittedly being a tiny bit freaked out thinking that I hadn’t told anyone where I was going or when to expect me back – if I injured myself out there, would I be able to get help. (Yes, I clearly went off the mental deep end, because my cell phone was strapped to my wrist and I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere – just the far edge of our community.)
Part of the way down the trail, I veered left toward a more difficult trail. Where the first part is wide, flat and straight, the next section is narrow, curvy, and filled with tree roots that double as tripping hazards. I failed to read the very thoughtful note someone had scribbled on the sign marking the trail head that indicated two downed trees along the way and found myself faced with either getting past the obstacles or turning back. I chose the former and with a duck, a turn to the left, a straddle of one limb,
a scooch here, and another duck there, I was on the other side and back on my way again.
It occurred to me that the fallen trees were metaphor for life – when faced with a hurdle, you can either face your fears, jump it and see what’s next, or you can give up, give in, and stay where you are. Again, I chose the former.
Because it had been so long since I’ve done this, I found out I was less prepared than I could have / should have been, and began a mental list of things I’ll need to remember next time – my long socks because the short ones slip down into my shoes leaving my heels shredded today, my walking stick which is used to not only steady my steps, but also to relocate any spiderwebs which block my path that are too low to duck under. (A and I had a philosophy that we disturbed as few critters as possible on our walks, and I was far more likely to photograph a spider than knock down its web), and bug spray, which I believe is self-explanatory.
When Max and I came to a small bridge, that when crossed over led to a pair of Adirondack chairs set out by the lake, he saw what he thought was a nice, open area to run. He leaped off the side of the bridge into the duckweed and other marine plants that gave the illusion of solid ground, but had him doggy-paddling for dry land. At that point, I ended up setting down my phone and my camera, laying over the side of the bridge, connecting his leash to his collar and hooking one hand under his front paws while pulling him up with the leash, all while he pawed at the bridge trying to gain hold.
After he finally had all four paws in the ground again, he looked at me with a goofy grin, shook himself sending lake water everywhere, and then bounded off again. Although I had initially intended to sit by the lake for awhile when I chose that path, Max’s little side adventure had me heading back toward home. It was a beautiful Fall day, but rather chilly for a wet, short-haired dog.
When all was said and done, I returned none the worse for wear (aside from blistered heels and a ring of tiny red ant bites circling my right ankle where I had inadvertently crouched over an ant hill while lining up a shot) with a camera full of images. It had been strange being out there by myself, but I embraced the solitude. I could feel my husband’s presence wherever I looked, and if I tried really hard, could imagine him standing patiently beside me while I got the perfect close-up of a spiny orb weaver in its web. He was one of my biggest fans, always waiting beside me, and even holding the umbrella for me those times I was silly enough to want to take pictures of the lightning.
I know there are many of my friends and family who are thrilled to see me back out there, and it truly is something I love. If I had my druthers, I would travel the globe taking photographs – people, locations, creatures – as I get completely lost in the moment when out there taking pictures. It is truly one of my passions, as is writing.
This most recent nature walk was yet another small step toward healing, and I will continue to travel the road less traveled. Although trickier to navigate, they are the most fun and undoubtedly reap the most rewards.
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