I have always been an outdoor bliss baby.
In the times when I have felt most stressed, most helpless, most in need of centering, I have always found solace in the outdoors. A hike in the woods can calm my mind when nothing else can. We are blessed with about 15 miles of semi-improved (read: There are blazes on the trees, and someone has moved the biggest of the fallen branches out of the way) trails a five-minute drive from the house. These traverse woodland, meadow, marsh and creekside terrains, with abundant wildlife to match each. If I pick the right combination of trails, I can get a fabulous 90-minute work-out, and see deer, pheasants, rabbits, egrets, herons, ducks, and fox along the way, as well as more songbirds than I can recount or even identify.
In the last year, I have forgotten how much I love them.
The Bug loved hiking, too, although I suspect that no small amount of that was a daughter's desire for quality alone time with her mother. We spent hours together, exploring those trails. I haven't been back since her death. In my exhaustion and sheer inability to remember that there was happiness in the world before she entered it, I have associated hiking with the absence of my precious daughter and in doing so, I have done my mental health a tremendous disservice.
My friend, Kate, told me Saturday night that she is beginning to worry about me. It's no secret that my much beloved husband has struggled horribly with the Bug's death, and the stress of watching him suffer has compounded my own (perhaps-too-) carefully-managed grief. "I feel like we're losing you, sister. Time to make a change."
So tonight, about an hour before dusk, I snagged Daisy Mae and dragged her out on a hike with me.
She complained, as any teen might, of my pace through sometimes uneven terrain. "Mom, I'm not exactly Ms. Outdoorswoman here!". I asked her if she was really interested in being out-done by a fat old broad like me. She set her teeth and kept going. ;) But as we entered the clearing between the thicket and the marsh, we got our payoff: A doe with her two spring fawns, munching away at the last of the green reeds. They were beautiful and appeared to ignore us entirely. Mom kept one eye on us, however, tail flicking as the three of them were intent on getting dinner finished before the sun set completely. As they walked off, I kept Daisy where she was for a moment, explaining in a barely audible voice about the crepuscular habits of deer, raccoons and other wildlife in this region. I told her we were being watched.
As we listened to the reeds and brush around us, we could hear four more large deer moving around, including the 12-point buck who rules that part of the woods. Although I couldn't see him, he could see us, and he finally let us know of his displeasure at our presence in his territory with a snort, and a stamp. My tough-girl daughter grabbed my arm, in excitement and just a touch of fear. I took her hand and we backed carefully out of the clearing.
"Mom, that was really cool, but freaky. I was afraid that deer was going to kill us."
"That was really cool, and I promise I won't let you get killed by a deer. Kind of a stupid way to die, dontcha think?"
We spent the rest of the hike sharing stories and thoughts as the darkness deepened. She didn't let go of my hand until we emerged in the clearing that serves as a parking lot: tired and chilly but clear-minded and smiling.
So maybe it's time to return to the woods.