Walking With the Living
The weather-guessers said we're to expect anywhere from 3 - 6 inches of snow. Or not. I smile and tuck that into the way back of my head and step off the porch onto the grass, its blade tips still showing through a light white powder.
I'm taking a walking stick with me this morning, given to me by my dear friend, Jeannie, who, as it's written into her obituary, "entered the Eternal Now" in July of 2016 (let me step out of the woods for a moment to tell you that Jeannie was my closest friend for 34 years, and the gap in our lives since she died still aches, still sits securely in the "I can't believe she's gone" place. There will be a future story about her, perhaps many, in these blog pages. Watch for them. She was, and is, a don't-miss. Ok. Back into the woods we go).
The walking stick in my right hand is only 12" shorter than I am (4' 2"--go ahead, do the math), and has two small black bear paw prints painted just below the soft deerskin "belt" that wraps it's handle like a corset. It was a birthday present; Jeannie knew how much we loved walking the land. But this was the first time I'd really given it a workout.
I've been a walker for decades. In moving here from the suburbs of Columbus nearly 20 years ago, Christmas came early and stayed; it's a two-mile round trip walk from our porch all the way to where our street meets the larger two-lane country road running north-to-south between Mt Vernon and Granville. One of my favorite things to do when it starts getting light out around 5:45a.m. (so...in May) is to lace up my sneakers and walk those two miles before heading off to work. It's a great way to unspool my thoughts, unravel particularly knotty problems, and step back onto the porch with a feeling of being unburdened, refreshed, ready. But until those May days arrive, I'm perfectly happy to walk in the other direction, in the dark or the light. I trust the woods more than the two-lane country road.
On this particular morning, with bear paw print stick in hand, I head deeper into the land that hugs us close, down the sloping hill into the meadow/flood-plain, the tip of the walking stick making gentle indentations in the soft rain-soaked soil. An occasional sparrow zips overhead, and there are communities beneath my feet that I can't even see. I stop at random spots along the path, noticing the fudgy hoof prints of a deer, the way the water has carved new tributaries in the creek that cuts through the meadow, exposing old tires (a spring dry-day project) and the massive root ball of a quaking aspen that was knocked down by the derecho of 2012. Like a prayerful chant, my mind loops around a single thought: how did I get so lucky? To be here, to see all this, to be one of its caretakers? We don't call ourselves "landowners", for we own nothing. We're responsible for 41.1 acres, with the full weight of what that means. We watch for those changes in the creek bed, keep an attentive eye toward where the water pools and floods when the rains are heavy, when the first robins and finches return near the end of February, and which willow saplings need to be freed of the thick tangle of grapevines that cover them like a veil.
If I stayed inside, or never made it off the porch, I'd miss most of that. The farther away I go from the house, the chicken coop, the old goat barns, and walk into all that lives and thrives in the balance of the acreage, the more I understand my place. I am small and significant enough to leave a footprint (fudgy or not, depending on the weather), but not much more. I stand on sacred ground, galaxies above me and below me that know more than I ever will about most stuff.
Walking stick in hand, cherished absent friend in heart, I plod along, unspooling thoughts and knotty problems, letting my gratitude for the turn of luck that has placed me here run the full length of my 5'2" frame.
Among the living is where I am, and where I am supposed to be.