Springtime in the Winter, But No Promises

springshootsonwinterdayI passed right by them while crossing through a lightly wooded park on New Year’s day. The ground was frozen, the average temperature 28 F. Last spring’s fallen leaves still covered much of the hard earth, a threadbare blanket at best. And so it took me a moment to realize what I had just seen on this day early in Winter: Hundreds of green shoots jutting just above the cold dirt and thin layer of brittle dry leaves. They spread over an area almost a dozen feet in length

What were these nascent early risers?  Too early for me to tell, but this patch presaged a patch of robust wild plants. I doubled back when the incongruity of springtime growth on the first of January  dawned upon me. Bent over to get a closer look I thought about how nice this area would look in a few months time covered with dense vegetation.shootsandleaves

Earlier in the day I had visited a patient in a nursing home, a woman confined to bed, unable to walk due to advanced multiple sclerosis. Her room was nice enough with pictures of her family, holiday cards hanging and she was cheerful, happy to greet a new visitor. She had walked, like me, but not for more than two decades, yet she still smiled and offered warmth to a stranger.

Her ability to warmly embrace the moment regardless of her own physical limitations reminded me of another person I once visited in the hospital, a father who became a paraplegic after a car accident. Without the use of his arm or legs he cherished any function he could still perform on his own, such as breathing. A devout and learned man, he quoted to me, actually admonished me, with an interpretation of a sentence from the Book of Psalms: For every breath, I praise God.

Cherish what you perceive as inconsequential.

As I looked at the shoots I started to question my own assumptions, that saplings always grow into strapping trees, that young shoots always grow into verdant plants, that life follows an upward trajectory. Perhaps these unlucky shoots poked out too early and well, that’s it for them.  Their moment in the sunlight was their first and last stand. Indeed within four days they were once again covered by snow. Will they survive until Springtime?0105141541

Breathing hard, feeling sore in my legs, I had been running past the new shoots when I first spied them and I admit, I was happy for an excuse to stop running and rest. Yet I keep wondering, when will I finally be able to run this route effortlessly, without even wanting to stop, with nary a hint of tiredness in my body? Am I not destined to improve?

My answer was in front of me.

No guarantees. No promises.

Perhaps each footstep today is its own triumph to be celebrated while on the journey toward ‘better’.  I do not preach defeatism. Indeed, “better” is the currency of mankind: farther for a hiker, faster for a runner, higher for a climber.

Rather I offer that one should learn to revel even in the seemingly mundane moments along the way. One’s ultimate goal may or may not be reached.  But either way, at least the journey itself will bring joy.

Keep your eyes on the trail…

Hiking trail through an oak forest - "Kno...

Hiking trail through an oak forest – “Knorreichenstieg” in Germany (Photo credit: http://www.martin-liebermann.de (zeitspuren))

I drive to work everyday. I look ahead, see I need to turn right and turn the wheel to the right. A pilot makes small adjustments to the yoke to change direction as does a boat captain to the wheel. And a cyclist, of course requires, well, the bike and its handlebars for steering.

But hikers, walkers, runners – we look ahead, see the trail we want to take, and will ourselves toward our chosen direction. We look and our feet respond. A slight bend to the right, a hop across a creek, an off-trail trip up a hill through tall grass or over downed branches, roots and rocks.

No wheel or yoke or handlebars required.

Our eyes do the steering on the trail.  Eyes see. The brain generates the course corrections. The feet loyally follow directions.

Planning and navigating a route is indeed an intellectual endeavor. Following the path that lies ahead, however, is primal. It involves our core senses- the visual of course, our steering mechanism; the tactile-sensing the ground; the auditory-hearing our footfalls over leaves and twigs or the sound of splashing or crunching, say, hard-packed snow; and the aroma and taste of the outdoors. Now in the Fall the smell is of the denoument of fallen leaves, their final act before dissolving into forest floor.

Pay close attention on your next trail. Choose a route, begin the journey and your body appears to simply follow the path. But the walk ahead is never simple: It may begin with just a vision, a vision though that evolves to engage all of your senses.