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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Remorse.

Remorse.

A few days ago, a friend and I met up for a hike.  Just before the trail entrance, we heard a weird noise, like the commotion of a bunch of chickens.  We stopped, tried to locate the sound, couldn’t, and continued on.

The Slobbering Beast was with us, and it’s been a bit since he was on a trail.  He was excited, bounding in giddy circles. He was even more thrilled when two other dogs showed up.  Since I didn’t know them, I put him on leash and called for their owner.   No one appeared.  We waited awhile, the dogs wandered off, and The Beast, my friend, and myself  got back to hiking.  Since we were heading into an area where there’s a lot of wildlife, I kept him on the leash and we jaunted along quite successfully until almost the end.  When the two dogs appeared again.

Still ownerless, but with something white and fluffy between them.

Yep.  A (recently dead) chicken.

I don’t know if it was the excitement of seeing his potential pals, the smell of blood, the sight of something soft and fluffy, or a combination, but The Beast lost his mind.  He hurtled a small bush and dashed into the undergrowth. He scraped through plants that might have been poison ivy.  He bumped up against several small rocks.

And since I was still holding the leash, so did I.

By this time I was prone, surfing the ground on my shoulder.  My friend was yelling, The Beast was still gallumping happily away toward the dead chicken, the two other dogs were barking a bit, and a single thought went through my mind.  Let go, you fool.  Let go.

So I did.

It’s hard for me to let go — of work that’s not working, of friends who are no longer friends, of emotions that are not serving my best interests.  So every now and then, the universe likes to remind me in the most physical way possible to move on.  It happened with riding — letting go can sometimes mean the difference between a good, clean fall and a bad fall where you get tangled up with the horse and gear — and now, since I’m not currently riding, the universe has apparently tapped The Slobbering Beast as a stand in.

I can’t control the loose dogs or the dead chickens life may throw at me.  Some days, I can’t even control The Slobbering Beast.  But I can control my response, and hanging on to something that’s not working mostly only hurts me.

Sometimes, as the song that’s playing everywhere these days says, you have to let it go.

 

 

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Sun and shadow

Sun and shadow

Today was the first day of school, and it’s tradition for me to drop off the kids and then bawl my eyes out. Three years ago, when my son transitioned from kindergarten to first grade, I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot. The second grade teacher on parent duty had to pat me on the shoulder and tell me to keep my sunglasses on so I wouldn’t upset the students.

But today I didn’t cry. Part of that is because the schedule is different this year: My son actually started school last week, and my daughter was with me when we dropped him off.  (At his specific request, I did not exit the vehicle.)

“You’re not going to CRY, are you?” my daughter asked from the back seat, a sweet combination of comfort and amusement. So I put my sunglasses on, swiped away an errant tear, and spent the day enjoying her company instead of my usual first day ritual, which is to take myself off to the hill where I hike.  That day, when her brother started school, the girl and I were talking about something in the future. And I said, without thinking “That will be six years. Right around the time you start college.”

“Six years,” she echoed, and we looked at each other, a bit aghast. More than two-thirds of my time with her is through — it was light years ago that she was a six-year-old, starting school herself, and light years beyond that a tiny newborn, when what seemed like unending time spooled before us.

But today it was her turn to start school, a new place where I know she will be happy, since I have researched it as only an over-protective, ex-reporter can do. And still it was more than bittersweet, dropping her off at the door where she’ll spend most of her waking days, in a sea of teachers and other students I may only ever come to know by name.

“You’re not going to CRY, are you?” she asked from the back seat, amused and a little panicked. “Because if YOU cry, I’ll cry.”  And so I put on my oversized sunglasses once more and assured her I would not cry. I offered to walk her in on this first day, and she was willing to let me, but the boy was bellowing “GO GO GO! She’ll be fine! I have to get to school too!  Don’t cry!” And so I let her go.  I drove off, watching in the rear view mirror as we moved away from each other, she growing smaller and smaller in the distance.

And then I took the boy to school, where we met up with one of his friends, and they played ball in the back seat until it was time to go in.  And then at last, in the sudden silence, I drove to my hill. There are other places that are more beautiful,  that offer a longer trail or a more scenic one, but this spot is so tightly wound into the fabric of my children’s childhood that there is no other place for me on days when I need peace or comfort. In my mind the hill is always the green of springtime, with short new grass and robins overhead. And today, my first time there in several months, that picture is what I was expecting.

But of course it was different. It’s September now, not May. The grass is high, almost to my chest, turning brown along the edges, ready for mowing.  The tall grass tunnels in, narrowing your options, making it more difficult to choose another way.   In past years I’ve run to the top, but today I took my time, winded by the humidity and a summer spent choosing beach walks over pounding along the sidewalks. It was supposed to rain, and half the hill was cast in shadow. When I reached the top, I sat and thought about all the times I’ve done this route, and how often I’ve had a baby or a toddler or small child along with me.  And I might have shed a tear or two then.

But it is hard to be melancholy with a dog, especially one who has had to be polite and on-leash for most of the summer and suddenly finds himself with room to run. The Slobbering Beast stretched out his legs and spronged through the tall grass like a rabbit, urging me on with friendly persistence until at last I got up and took the path toward the woods, the trail curving along ahead of us, dark and mysterious, with secrets of its own for us to discover just around the bend.

Happy Beast

Happy Beast

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It snowed here last week — crisp and white and heavy. I’d planned for a snow day and finished  my work early, but the kids wound up having school.  And so I found myself with several whole hours and nothing (besides laundry! writing! dinner!)  to do.  I decided to play hookie and go for a hike.

Near the preschool where my children went is a parcel of conservation land. When the kids were little, I knew it well. The school was just far enough, and the program just short enough, that most days it didn’t make sense to go back home after I’d dropped them off, so I spent many of those two-hour segments wandering the trail.

I still hike there from time to time, but almost always the shorter loop — the longer one requires a time commitment I’m rarely free to give. Last week,  it felt almost sinful to start down the longer path, but I did.

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My, what big footprints!

The trails have changed since my children were little — the conservation organization has added new paths and extended old ones. The snow had covered the way in several places, and I had to backtrack until I found the right direction. And then I found a pair of footprints leading off on their own, through a part of the woods I hadn’t visited before.

I was hiking by myself. Normally I have the Slobbering Beast for company. He’s an ideal companion — an 80-lb missile of muscle with Orca jaws and white shiny teeth, ready to have my back if required but a waggle-bottomed enthusiastic greeter of the toddlers and their parents we sometimes encounter. He’s also my personal GPS.  He can find a trail in any condition, and is a stickler about staying on it. (Unless there are bunnies, in which case deviations are allowed.) But even the most handsome Beast occasionally needs to be bathed, whether he wants to be or not, which is why I was on the trail and he was getting his nails cut.

So when I saw the footsteps, I hesitated. I worried whether I would be able to find my way back. I wondered who I’d encounter on my own, with no Beast by my side. But the woods were lovely, dark and deep, and I had no promises to keep that day. Except to myself, so I stepped off the path and wandered away.

And it was lovely.  Peaceful and quiet, aside from the ice and snow falling from the trees, shattering into a handful of sparkles when they hit the ground. There were deer tracks, raccoon prints, and disturbingly large dog-like tracks that appeared on their own and disappeared down a little gully, but the only human prints were those that I’d followed into the woods. And then they veered up, toward where the trees broke along the meadow, but I continued on, along the hint of the path ahead, which curved and double-backed and eventually met up with the main trail, at the exact spot at which I’d meant to be. But the way I’d gone this time was so fresh and new to me, I was able to see it with clear eyes, and so the journey was completely different than it might have been.

Writing is like that. Sometimes you have to break away from the known, from the carefully constructed outline you’ve made, and follow that hint of inspiration where it takes you. It may get lonely. You may come across something that disturbs you. But the journey will be your own.  It will be unique, and it will be what your reader remembers, even if you end up in the exact same spot you’d intended all along.

The end.

The end.

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Yes, I went out with the Girl Scouts.  And yes, I managed to get us lost DESPITE PRE-HIKING THE TRAIL.  Gah.  Technically, we weren’t LOST, as I told the small child who timidly asked me.  We knew where we were, and we knew where we wanted to go, we just didn’t know how to get there.  A woman with a better sense of direction than me (read: a sense of direction at all) managed to navigate us back to the trailhead, and I figured it out from there.

So I’m thinking about Jan’s comment in the previous post and wondering if perhaps it would be a good idea for me to outline my next story after all. 🙂

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