And here we are at the close of another year. Through all the difficulties and uncertainties of this past year I hope you have also found time for appreciation, happiness, and wonder. May you look back on 2021 as a year fully-lived, and look forward to the new year with hope and joy in a new day’s dawning.
Neighborhood walks have become my thing. And I’m only now realizing how important, and fun, they are for me. On Thanksgiving I read of a challenge for people to get outside for 30 minutes everyday for 101 days. That intrigued me and I realized that with my walking I cover a little less than two miles in 30 minutes. So I decided to challenge myself to walk two miles everyday until the end of the year. And then I saw that if I walked three or four miles for a dozen or so of those days I could reach 400 miles for the year of 2021. The goal was set and the challenge was on.
I started walking more regularly after I broke my leg in February 2020. My physical therapy was to get motion and movement to my ankle after the bones were pinned and screwed back together. Around the block was a challenge in those first months, but I stayed with it and went more blocks every few days. And with that increasing distance I learned and observed new things. This was near the beginning of our COVID-19 lockdown. I saw window signs of thanks to our front-line workers and I saw sidewalk chalk drawings of rainbows and better days. I walked through the months of signs about George Floyd and then election signs, both local and national. And I observed the Halloween decorations morph into Christmas lights and blowup Santas and snowmen, followed by the spring flowers, the green grass of summer, and the brilliance of fall leaves.
I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I’m walking — I prefer to be open to the sounds and sights around me. I’ve heard the happy squeals of children out on the playground during recess and the honking of geese flying high overhead. I’ve seen eagles above me, the first spring crocus emerging from the snow, a nest full of robin’s eggs, and deer crossing the path ahead of me. I’ve learned how to dress for the different weather – a baseball hat for summer’s sun and a tightly knit fleece-lined beanie for winter’s cold; waterproof boots for rain and thickly lined heavy boots for snow. And I’ve used the time to think — to process things that are bothering me, to think of lessons learned from the past, and to dream of future adventures.
Yesterday was a busy and full day with a long list of things to be done. I was up early, shoveled the light snow that had fallen overnight, then made a quick trip to the grocery store. Things to be tidied up at home, a visit to a loved one in the hospital, and quickly the daylight was passing by and I hadn’t gone for my walk. A half hour before sunset and feeling a bit stressed I put on my boots, hat, gloves, and heavy coat and headed out the door. With each step I got out of my head and started to look around me. The fresh snow was still lovely on the ground, and as the sun was starting its descent to the horizon it spread its light all around. In the distance I could hear the wolves at the Como zoo howling and the squeals of children riding their sleds down the hills. As I walked near the golf course at Como Park I looked to the east and was greeted with a pale full moon rising over the snow covered hills. I saw a group of skiers that had stopped to take in the sight too. These are the moments of delight that get me out of the house on my walk each day. I returned home with a new attitude.
So I have 12 days remaining before year end and 19.9 miles to go. Plenty of time for more delight and joy and to think of new challenges for 2022.
With a quick plummet of the temperatures we are now in winter. Our unusually long and temperate autumn has disappeared. The ducks and geese have departed for warmer areas and open water. Only the oak trees are hanging on to their brittle brown leaves, rattling in the cold wind. The ground is starting to freeze, the snow is starting to fall, and the ice is forming. There’s a hush that settles in during winter — a peace and quiet all its own.
With a lightness in my step and a smile on my face, I stepped out into 48 degrees and sunshine yesterday afternoon for a walk. The sun was warm and it seemed that everyone was outside taking advantage of the lovely weather. My thoughts turned to spring and the hope of flowers and blooming trees. Tulips seem to be one of those “perfect” symbols of springtime, turning their blooms up towards the sun.
This morning I woke up to snow. Sometimes it was coming down quite heavily. My brightness of yesterday and hope for spring was certainly dimmed. But today is still February, and this snow will probably repeat again before the season turns all the way to spring. I shoveled the heavy wet snow, turned my face to the sun that had broken through the clouds, and tried to imagine the green grass and the blooming trees and tulips.
February seems to mark the coldest temperatures of our winter, and that has certainly been true for this year. We are lucky to get above zero during the day, and our nighttime cold extends into the teens and twenties below zero. This is the belly of winter – the depths of winter – the take-your-breath-away time of winter. The sun casts long shadows over a landscape covered in snow. The blue sky is lovely but the wind howls and picks up any fresh snow, twirling it in the air and repositioning it with abandon. It’s a time to appreciate basic comforts like warm boots and clothes, furnaces and heat, and the knowledge that in a few months we will crawl out of this belly and eventually into spring.