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Discovering What Was Always There

by Carol Panerio


This morning I took my collie, Lady Grace, for her usual early-morning walk, but instead of striding briskly to and from the yellow house about a quarter mile up the road, I sauntered and paused, unaware that I was quadrupling my path’s length to the end of the road. I drank in the wide sweep of powder-blue sky tethered by purple-shadowed hills at the edge of my valley. Gatherings of ash and willow rose here and there in the foreground, some adorned with creeping woodbine and wild grape vines. Wildflowers grew in the barrow pits. A few abandoned fields of tasseled grasses caught the sun, each blade in sharp relief as if now seen through proper eyeglasses. The pace of this walk was something fresh, like the air. How long had it been since I had done this?

For the past twenty years, and maybe forever by my default settings, I’ve felt tied to the tasks of home. My husband, Al, had become severely disabled, and I centered my life on caring for him. I had a pretty well-defined routine to my days. Rise early, spend time in prayer and Bible reading—for my strength and guidance—and then keep Al’s doctor and therapy appointments, afterward making the house, yard and garden orderly and functional. I made almost daily trips to the grocery store, maintaining the kitchen larder to make his favorite meals for gatherings of family or friends or just the two of us. Much thought went into staying on top of things. I counted minutes.

After Al’s passing, I continued this uncompromising program, although suspecting my motives. But a body in motion keeps moving. How do you make it stop?

I’m not sure what spark of inspiration reversed the momentum. Perhaps it was a “Daily Insight” in my email inbox advising me to spend half an hour a day in nature. Or perhaps a hidden, niggling thought looked for its voice.

I should go spend some time in nature, I thought. Maybe tomorrow . . .

“Wait a minute,” an almost audible voice said. “Why wait?”

I nodded in agreement. Grabbing a sweater and the dog leash, I proceeded to the garage. “Get in the car,” I said to Lady Grace, opening the back door for her and then tossing in her leash. “We’re going for a ride.”

Months had passed since I’d been to my favorite spot—a pet-friendly picnic ground near a creek whose bubbling ripples led to a horseshoe falls aptly named “Roughlock.” The drive there through a rock-rimmed gorge older than the Grand Canyon was uplifting enough, but I resolved not to cheat myself of the “up close and personal.” I parked close to the stream and got out, drawing in a deep draft of sweet air.

After allowing Lady Grace to prance around the creek bank, biting the water—chomping the ripples as if capturing an unruly fly between her jaws—I followed the tugging dog across a footbridge to a cloistered outdoor room ringed by pines—light-shafts filtering through their branches illuminating the damp, needle-covered floor. Visitors generally pass by this secluded area, so I expected to experience my surroundings unobserved.

I tied the leash to the frame of a picnic table, and then climbed up to sit on the table top. Moments passed. The music of the water, the fragrance of the swaying pines, the breeze fluffing my hair, along with an intoxicating deep blue sky broadcast with fleecy clouds, began to do their work. My heart opened. Strands of tightly-wound emotions began to uncoil. I lost my self-absorbed weights to float on the thermals of beauty. All the checks and controls I’d worked so hard to maintain dissolved. Tears blurred my vision. I sat spellbound for maybe half an hour, maybe more.  Where was time in this holy space?

When I finally returned home, I moved quietly so as not to disturb this new sense of myself—larger, yet lighter and unrestrained. Consciously or unconsciously I knew I would not, could not, be satisfied with life contracted by my former framework.

In the last couple of weeks I have lain on a flat rock watching clouds, left my unwashed supper dishes for my porch swing to enjoy the structure and color of my terraced yard’s rock walls and foxtail lilies, and played ball in the yard with the dog. Today I lengthened my dog walk. I still get work done, but do it with lightness.

Now I wonder, is there more to discover?