My youngish neighbor, who lives in spitting distance, stopped his van and asked me if I was running away from home. Here it is six o'clock in the morning, and I am outside at the edge of my driveway in my workout clothes and backpack. "No. I have my water bottle, camera and a change of clothes. Well, only kidding about clothes." He glances at me for a mere second and catches my humor. He drove off. I set my timer for one hour and readjust to the task ahead. My attitude has changed in the last six months.
Thanks to spending COVID isolation walking on country backroads, I have raised my level of attentiveness. Actually, I didn't notice it at first, and the subtle change seeped in at a snail's pace. You would think that after all my years of living in a rural environment, I would have a higher awareness. Perhaps, it is, and all along, I have claimed innocence.
Most days, my walk is spiritually centering. I pray, break into a stanza from a familiar hymn, and sense God is everywhere, right here, now and all the time. There's a clean slate in front of me wiped clean of yesterday, and I sigh deeply in gratitude. I plan out what I am going to accomplish later on like a Great Course lecture, or a writing webinar from my Pittsburgh class. Today will be the day I start monitoring my eating habits after slacking off over the weekend. The entire experience is liberating, and all that pure air goes to my head literally.
I am discovering the dependability in nature, which is better than mankind's fickle ways that have run amok lately trying to micromanage the earth. The roadside wildflowers burst alive in the proper season, and the shades of green or brown in the fields flicker depending on the angle of the sun's rays. I've taken natural life cycles for granted far too long.
Even if I had to bundle up in my parka and long johns, I appreciated late winter's fresh air and a break from cabin fever. There were afternoons I had to wage war a mental war with myself to tackle the cold. Especially the chilly wind that swooped across the empty, bare acres at the furthest point in my hike slapping my face with a reality check. This one daily ritual would clear my head, and those endorphins created their magical highs that carried me for hours afterward. Early on, I accepted that I wasn't going to be flying off anytime soon, and I put those anticipated adventures to rest while pounding the pavement.
Winter doesn't last forever despite what others might say. Little by little, as the weather warmed and the mud abated, I varied my routine and found the precious minutes before sunrise as the ideal ones. I would strike out with anticipation, and my cellphone ready for a shot. Sometimes it was a deer and her fawns hesitantly crossing often with the littlest one lagging behind. Once, it was a strikingly, beautiful red fox. Oh, and the birds. The woodpeckers, doves, and chickadees wish me a happy day from near and far hanging out on the telephone lines ever vigilant.
A few early morning commuters give me a half-wave - their thoughts are elsewhere - and I depend upon their timing like clockwork. I smell whiffs of toast from inside a house set back from the road, and I realize that soon the owner will be out in his truck commuting off to his work station. Usually, I hog the center yellow stripes to myself and cast my eyes at the golden tones of the sun rising behind the oak trees. The mist lifts off the pond like an envelope coming unglued one corner at a time. Breathing in the freshness of the air fills my lungs with goodness. It washes over stale negativity lingering from too much social media exposure.
As daylight dribbles into dusk and the sun sinks below the horizon, there is a different perspective on a walk. Folks are out and about on their farm trucks finishing up chores with the cows, and lively boys having one final fling along the roadside burning up energy, giving their mom a break for a moment or two. Peace comes pouring into me, and I accept gracefully that my enthusiasm wanes. When I return home, my sneakers find their resting spot on the mat, and I on the couch.