In yesterday’s paper, the First Person column was written by me. In case you don’t live where I do, I’m sharing it with you here. Enjoy.
I lay on my back in the grass with an Irish Setter puppy on my chest. I stroked her head and back, breathed in the turnip fragrance of her puppy nose, and felt the warmth of the sun on her coppery puppy fur. Together, we soaked up the peace of a sleepy October afternoon. I gazed up at the bluest of skies and declared to this precious little being that autumn is the best season of all. I was a young teen then, but over the years, many happy memories made in the fall have colored my life with the brilliance of that perfect blue sky.
My dad enjoyed hunting, and every fall, he and my mother and I would travel to what was called a sportsman’s club somewhere in rural Ohio. Skeet shooting was the featured activity of the morning for the men, as their wives prepared an enormous pot luck dinner. While the other women stirred the beans and set the tables, my mother and I took long walks in the woods and along the pond. We gathered cat tails, bittersweet, and other plants to make our annual fall bouquet. We hunted for buckeyes and added them to our treasures.
Those long walks in the woods created in me a love of hiking, especially in the fall. Twenty years ago, I contacted a friend who lives on the East Coast, and together we formed a group of twelve women, half of whom are blind, for a week of hiking in New England, and we called it “The Hen Hike.” We stayed in bed and breakfasts and hiked about four hours a day for a week. Every morning we’d pair up—each woman who is blind holding an arm or a strap from the back pack of her sighted guide, and two by two, we’d set off down the trail. We packed lunches in the morning and devoured them somewhere in the woods, sitting on a log or a group of rocks by a babbling stream. We tipped our faces up to the sun, touched the carpet of moss, climbed over fallen logs, stepped from one wobbly rock to another over little brooks, and marveled at the quiet of the forests. Sometimes the only sounds we heard were our own voices, raised in laughter and chatter as we walked along on leaf-covered paths. Once a day, we would stop at a particularly beautiful spot for five minutes of absolute silence. We would pray, or meditate, or do nothing at all but enjoy the serenity that surrounded us. Five minutes of silence is about all you can ask of a dozen happy hikers, but we looked forward to that healing time each day. Rather than camp fires at night, we enjoyed wine and cheese back at the B&B followed by a gourmet dinner. Bedtime came early after hiking in the splendor of a New England fall day.
Since those first few years, we’ve hiked in many different states, from Minnesota to Tennessee, and last year, we stayed at Punderson State Park, right here in Ohio. For our twentieth anniversary next month, we’re hiking in Tucson. We’re swapping heavy jackets and gloves for sun screen and hats. Our guides will have a different kind of challenge as we thread our way between cacti and boulders, but we are all up to the adventure. We might not be tipping our faces to the sun, but we’ll be toasting ourselves at Happy Hour for 20 years of celebrating the joy of hiking and the power of friendship.
Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”
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