From my first footfall, the tension I had been carrying in my shoulders started to evaporate. As my steps continued across the bridge, the water rushing underneath transported my cares away from me like white water over the rocks. I paused to breathe it in. Fresh air caressed my lungs, and the slight breeze tousled my hair as if to welcome me home. The sun shone down, filtered through the bare branches of winter trees, who seemed a bit confused by this 70 degree February weather. A few buds were evident on otherwise stark skeletons.
Muscle memory took my legs over rocks and roots, and once it kicked in, my mind began to clear of the incessant worry that has taken up residence in the past month. The crows overhead laughed together as my countenance began to change. It was as if they could read my mind and were overjoyed to see the smile appear at the corners of my mouth. A red cardinal crossed the path in front of me in pursuit of his wife. She stayed just enough ahead of him to keep him interested, and the two chattered like an old married couple might do. On the lake there were diamonds flung across the surface, dazzling in the late afternoon sun, and a family of mallards was calmly making their way across the water. The v rippling behind them cut through the glassy shimmer, giving away that their legs under the surface were working furiously, even as they appeared to glide smoothly on the top.
Soon I was in my usual rhythm making note of all the changes since last I walked the lake. Like a reunion with a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in a while, I noticed newly downed trees, fresh gravel, and underbrush that has been cut back over the winter. I thought, “Wow. You look different! How long has it been since we have seen one another?” In response the wind whispered, “Too long.” And the wind was right. It has probably been months since I last had a good trip around the lake, and it shows in the load I have been carrying, but with each step it got lighter. Half way around and I was practically skipping. My heartrate increased with the exertion. My heart was applauding and thanking me for this long overdue interlude from daily stresses. It continued its ovation until I stopped at the end, for a rest on a picnic table.
By the time I made it there, my body was weary but stress free, my mind was empty of the “what ifs” that plague it in hard times, and I was at peace. This allowed me to lie back and listen to the forest like hearing a great song on the radio or a classical symphony…only better. The concrete table was cool on my overheated back. The pine trees above me looked like pinwheels with branches that stuck out in a circular pattern. The sun was starting its descent which made the breeze a bit chilly, and that made my cool down go quickly. If I had started earlier in the day this would have been a nap, instead I soaked in the beauty until I got too chilled to stay any longer.
Why is it that when things get difficult the first thing I cut out of my life is the thing that helps me most? I will never understand how rapidly I forget the benefits of hiking when I am stressed. I know that time is the real reason. In seasons of stress, the urgent takes precedence and there is nothing that can change that really. You do what you have to do. However, now that things are a small bit settled, there is nothing stopping me. Closing my eyes, I could hear the babbling brook calling me to come and stick my feet in, before my departure back to real life. “It’s February. When will you ever get to creek-walk in February?” it called. I smiled and said, “Another time. Maybe, when I come back… tomorrow.”