Recently, I took up walking again. After sitting before a computer screen most hours and leaving the house as little as possible for six months, I grabbed my FitBit, laced up my Adidas and reminded my legs of their true purpose. My first jaunts doubled as social time with various friends — chatting ceaselessly as we navigated the sidewalks of my small hometown. This past week, I carved out more time in my schedule and expanded my treks to the backroads of the nature preserve near my home — each trip a mix of memory and mindfulness.
Nature’s First Green Is Gold
This past weekend, my two youngest children, ages eight and five, accompanied me. They have been participating in school online this fall, so the 3.5-mile journey we made, both Saturday and Sunday, provided them with much-needed fresh air and sunshine. They marveled at discovering a praying mantis scrambling to get out of our way and two woolly bear caterpillars they promptly named Jake the Snake and Julia and carried with us the entire trip. We watched a dozen turkey buzzards and one juvenile eagle descend on a massive dead coon, and I pointed out the native wildflowers and trees throughout the preserve. Despite one child being in third grade and one in kindergarten, some of their schoolwork intersects, so on our walks, they applied their knowledge by performing different action verbs, counting the birds and discussing how the Earth’s rotation determined the position of the setting sun.
Her Hardest Hue to Hold
My elementary-aged children are an echo of an older set – ages 18 and 15 now. I remember traversing the suburban streets and metro parks with them, 10 years ago. Their little hands in mine, we explored the pockets of nature throughout the greater Columbus, Ohio, scene, collecting Monarch caterpillars and Blue Jay feathers and making up stories about the people living in the houses we passed every day. That time seem a lifetime ago — and yet, it could be yesterday. Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour.
Then Leaf Subsides to Leaf
Autumn arrived yesterday, warm and bright, ending the endless summer and offering hope, six months into a pandemic. Perhaps the rarest moment in my current chaotic life presented itself — I tackled the backroads with only our dog, Maggie, as company. I set my own stride, a much faster pace than taken with others. I had forgotten how much I love late September. It might be my favorite time of year.
On either side of the road the borders our property grows wild plum, locust and maple trees and a pair of apple trees, the knotty fruit almost inedible now but perhaps grown intentionally by early settlers. Their leaves still green, I noticed just a whisper of gold.
Then a leaf descended to the pavement with perfect timing – the first I’d seen fall this year.
So Eden Sank to Grief
As I walked on, I noticed the soybeans and corn near harvest, the swaying grasses of the plains, a symphony of insects and peepers, a murmuration of starlings, the exuberant burst of color in weeds and wildflowers. Goldenrod, tickseed, prairie sunflower. And in beautiful contrast to the gold — purple coneflower, michaelmas daisies, chicory. Surely, this is nature’s finest hour!
If only I did not know how the story goes — the seasons, though more volatile than in years past, are one constant in these unpredictable days.
Now settled in my 40s, I feel this autumn equinox in my very bones. Just beyond, I sense the frost creeping in and the impending quiet.
So Dawn Goes Down to Day
I reach the point in my walk where the pavement gives way to gravel and a side road forks off the main. Maggie bounds ahead but stops, wagging her tail expectantly when I don’t forge ahead.
I pause, only for a moment, thinking of this Robert Frost poem. Then, shaking off the sadness and silencing deep thoughts, I join my dog and pick up the pace.
Clouds have gathered in the sky, bringing just a hint of chill. It feels good after an hour's walk. The road unfolds before me, and the world around me glows in gold as the sun and I head toward the horizon.
On this day in autumn, I find this true: Nothing gold can stay.
But I would be remiss not to mention how breathtakingly beautiful this scene is in December — the wide stretch of prairie and marshlands, edged in ice and dusted with snow.