Two hours. Yesterday I found myself with two unscheduled hours, just for me. I was unexpectedly released from work two hours early, the kids were still in school, and my husband was working. I cradled these two golden hours in the palm of my hand, not wanting to let them slip through my fingers. I thought of many things I could do with these two hours that would serve the progress of something--dinner, or shopping, or cleaning, or planning. I thought about calling a friend for some spontaneous and always needed friend time. Instead, I decided to walk. Yet another gorgeous day in what has been an autumn full of gorgeous days beckoned to me. I stopped by the house long enough to put on my walking shoes, then I drove to my favorite park.
Walking might not seem like much exercise, but it's my favorite thing to do. The other day I was playing bat-and-ball with my daughters, and Azalea was getting frustrated with me for one too many poor pitches. I laughed and told her that instead she should be delighted with the surprising quantity of good pitches that I hurled her way. I explained that her mom is not what you'd call an "athlete". Perhaps this lack of innate athleticism is what draws me to walking. Perhaps it's being outside. For whatever reason, I love it.
The park I walked at yesterday has a 3-mile paved trail around a lake, which is enjoyed by walkers, joggers, and cyclists. After walking this trail for about a quarter-mile, there is an option to split off onto a gravel trail that winds up a hill, around a marsh, and through a prairie. Far fewer people take this trail. It is my favorite trail. Without hesitation, I struck out from the car toward the unpaved trail.
The clouds formed a high and discontinuous ceiling over the prairie, blocking most of the sunlight while allowing glimpses of blue sky. I had to force myself to take my eyes off the big sky to keep from tripping. I had the trail all to myself, and I must have been the only passerby for some time because I startled several wild things. Occasionally a creature wiggled the grass, or splashed the water, or rustled the leaves as it scrambled to get away from me. I even saw a waterborne mammal, probably a muskrat. A rare sighting to be sure.
At the top of a hill is a remarkable overlook where the prairie spills over the hillside without the obstruction of trees or structures. I gazed over the prairie as I walked, marveling at the vastness of plant life that has all gone dormant but will grow anew in a few months. Suddenly my eyes caught sight of a solitary leaf, twisting as it fell from nowhere in particular. I was at the top of a treeless hill, looking down on grasses, with nothing but clouds above, so where did this leaf come from? I distracted myself from these musings by switching my focus to catching the leaf. It became tangled in a gust of wind and sped toward me, and my athleticism meter inched up a notch as I caught the leaf with one hand. I examined the leaf, feeling certain that it would be remarkable in someway. But it wasn't. It was a dry, brown, crumbly leaf, even a bit on the smallish side, with a few holes in it. I smiled at its ordinary appearance despite its magical entrance. I made a wish, because that seemed like the appropriate thing to do with a maybe-magical leaf, and released it back onto the wind. It lifted out of my hands for a moment before nose-diving into the grass across the trail.
I breathed deeply and allowed myself to be filled with gratitude for this day, for my life, for these two hours, for a maybe-magical leaf. It's all there for me, to support me. It's all there for me no matter what. It's all there for you, too. And it doesn't even require two hours.