In the fall of 2018 I took a two month sabbatical and I am still trying to figure out what this has done for me, or to me. For part of my time away from Seedleaf duties, I took a long walk on the Sheltowee Trace. What follows is one reflection from my time on the trail.
A hat. Over years of gardening I have come to appreciate a hat for a number of reasons. On Day 3 of my long walk I lost the cap I was counting on to shade my face from the sun, and my glasses from the rain. I arrived at a spot where the trail moved down a slight grade into standing water. The water in Cave Run Lake had risen and pushed itself into this tributary due to the recent rains. I tried to stick with the trail, so devoted was I to the trail markers. But within a number of yards I was in hip-deep water. I would have to be more creative about getting around this.
So I turned away from the lake, which was on my left, and up the creek a bit. Before too long I witnessed much more water than I initially suspected filling this low-lying area. This was not encouraging. Off the trail now, my pace was slow. Small trees and thorny vines crowded me—a real bushwhack was underway. Also, I was gaining a bit of elevation, so by the time I saw a spot to cross a manageable stream, my path would include a scramble down a steep and rocky hill. While I was sorting all of this out amidst a dense patch of trees I reached up to adjust my cap and found that it was not there. I was so focused on my footing that I completely missed the moment then the cap went missing. I am not one to litter by leaving gear behind, but this thing was totally lost. I crossed the stream hatless, and then I crossed another within the same hour, before I was back on the trail.
Without my cap I was able to enjoy a wider view. Much of my attention was still devoted to the trail—the mud I could avoid, the mud I couldn’t, the roots that may serve me, the rocks that may be slick. The trees around me were still in full leaf, so I did not risk sunburn without the shade of my hat bill. Now, looking up was something I learned to so, something I had to remind myself to do. But doing so began to avail me to a sustaining beauty overhead, a quiet miracle I nearly walked by. Once it was the moon out in the morning. Once it was an owl on a branch ten feet above the trail. More than once it was a tree clinging to a moss-covered rock. It was as if that bushwhack, that most inconvenient stream crossing, had knocked the scales from my eyes. Now I could begin to learn how to see, how to look, how to watch without expectation. Now I could draw energy from the life around me and the beauty hovering just above my head.