Despite 2020 making me feel like I wanted to wear sweatpants and eat platters of cheese every day, I did develop one good habit this year.
Since March, every day that I can, I have walked in the woods. Just me and my dog, for an hour a day, usually. At the beginning of quarantine, it was the only time I left the house. I walked in the wind, the snow, sleet, frigid cold, the rain, and the heat and humidity of the summer. It has become my daily meditation. It’s where and when I set my tone and my intentions for the day. I walk and I walk and I walk and I let my mind wander. It’s a quiet walk, and I look forward to the solitude.
There’s always something that makes me smile when I walk; the sun on my face, the fresh crisp air. In the fall, it’s the brilliant bursts of color; I find myself snapping photos every 10 feet. This fall I came across a few different painted rocks, placed where they would be seen. They were painted with hearts. Someone left a little love where it could be seen and enjoyed, absorbed and felt. I felt it. I left the rocks there. It didn’t feel right that I should be the only one to enjoy them. That was months ago. I still see one of the rocks in the same place. It still makes me smile.
There’s one path where a holly tree has grown old and tall, filing up straight next to an oak. Its lower branches mingle with the forked trunk of the oak, and there’s a little hiding space in which someone, probably a long time ago, left a “treasure box” nestled. It’s one of those craft projects that I might have suggested to my kids on a rainy day: paint the little hinged box whatever color you want, glue some “jewels” on it, put your treasures inside. I wonder about the person who painted that box… is red their favorite color? Did they choose the most precious jewels to glue on it? Did they make it with the intention of leaving it in the woods? Are there treasures inside?
I’ve never touched it, never disturbed it to see what’s inside. I guess I’d rather wonder about it.
It’s been a trying year for sure. It’s been weird, frustrating, lonely, anxiety-inducing, and altogether uncertain. I have found myself on a roller coaster of emotions, like a lot of people. And not just from day to day. It can be from hour to hour.
So I take comfort in the certainty of some things, like the serenity of my walks in the woods. It is clear that my breathing will become deeper and slower whenever I step on those paths. I can feel my mind stop its racing and worrying; I relish in those little things that bring a spontaneous smile to my face.
The other day was the first time enough snow fell to stay on the ground when we woke up, enough to frost each tree branch and any oak leaves stubborn enough to remain there. I was excited to walk. I kept stopping to take so many pictures that my dog was getting annoyed with me and I risked being late to work. I drank it all in. I knew it would be gone in a matter of hours. Winter isn’t my favorite season, but there’s something magical about being in the woods when everything is dusted gently with snow and there’s no one else around.
One day later, there was no snow left to be seen. It was 25 degrees, but not cold enough for us to skip our walk. I let my dog lead me down a familiar path. Up ahead I could see something shiny on one of the scraggly holly trees. It was purple. As I got closer, I could see that someone decorated this tree in the middle of the woods. There’s a long length of red plaid ribbon wrapped around and around, and shiny Christmas spheres hooked on a dozen branches. It made me smile in a way that’s hard to describe. I felt emotional all of a sudden, by myself in the woods, and then I had to laugh. I didn’t expect the reaction, this sudden upswell of emotion. I kept smiling long after I passed the tree.
It made me so happy that someone wanted to do this, to pass on joy in this way, to make a random stranger smile. To bring happiness to someone even though they might not see it, might never know of it. I’d like to think it was absolutely enough for them to know they did it for the purest of reasons. It probably made them smile as they decorated the tree. I hope it did.
Let us spread joy purely for the sake of spreading joy, not for the recognition, but because that’s what makes everything worth it.
“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”