off the circle

It’s the fifth morning in a row. 6:30 am. Approaching the entrance to the trail from the open path leading from the parking lot. Transitioning into a fairyland is the only way I can think of to describe the awe of stepping so distinctly into another world of the morning. The warm rising sun is replaced by cool shaded hush and the sparkle of filtered light on water. The sounds of forest birdsong and bubbling brook come into focus. Perception alters as I take in the scene in front of me…

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I feel myself literally enveloped in a space that is as different from the moment before as my slowing gait is from Nora’s enthusiastic leaping. I don’t want to take this providence for granted and allow just a brief consideration of where we would be if we couldn’t get here for some reason. With that thought out of the way and gratitude back in my stride, we set off down the trail together…

A pattern is forming. The first stretch of the trail is what it is and where variation is always possible, I don’t stray far from what feels like the same steps taken the morning before. Anticipating the place where paths diverge in every direction, I consider where we will be led this morning. Nora is also getting used to the familiar twists and turns and though I let her lead for now,

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I have decided that we will ‘do the circle’ that leads part way up the mountain, across the ridge, and back down again to join the path where this particular loop begins. Moving in a circle this way feels good and dispels the illusion that there is any kind of ‘back-tracking.’  But I do see this as the illusion that it is. And I am genuinely open to going off the circle and exploring tangents. I consider the stress I have experienced in the past from resisting any form of backtracking. I can hear my ex-husband’s chuckle now as if he was reading this, my admission to what was a relentless need to keep moving forward no matter what, the strain this placed on our marriage…

The first tangent takes us in the opposite direction of the loop we will engage with soon enough. It is flat terrain, following the path of the brook. But this brook also follows the path of the main road just beyond and I’m distracted by the sound of cars going by. When the path dead ends on the brook before taking a sharp turn to continue along its’ bank, I simply turn around and begin walking back.  We pass the conceptual starting point for the loop that has structured my imagination this morning. It is still so early and I relish the feeling of being out here without the constraint of time and worry. The kiss of cool air on my skin is simply intoxicating. Each step is gently felt and heard. It doesn’t matter if I am walking fast or slow. It doesn’t matter how far away Nora goes because she always comes back. And it doesn’t matter if we encounter a stranger along the way, there are no strangers here.

The next tangent is up. Instead of looping around to follow the ridge, I simply continue climbing. The path becomes a typical mountain path of rocky ledge. I feel the welcome stretch in the back of my legs and the impulse to just keep moving forward. Nora continues to do her thing, racing in and out of the woods. But she is also slowing down now, staying just a bit longer on the narrowing path that seems to be leading us to the top of something. The sun beckons and the promise of a clearing entices. It would be so easy to just keep going until we reach that place that I know will come. I have nothing but time. And then just like that, I feel the impulse to turn around and go back. So simple. No agonizing or fuss, just moving in the opposite direction again and back to a place I think I know. I could judge myself for giving up or giving in, for not being adventurous or enduring to the finish. But I don’t. The warmth in my chest expands to include the beauty of Nora on the path in front of me.

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She has taken to stopping and waiting for me now, watching, sometimes even turning around and walking up to meet me. I feel the tears of acceptance in my throat, the truth of the timelessness of going off the circle, the love that is there for me to know….

I’m already thinking about how to carry this timelessness into the day. Moving along the ridge now I anticipate the community that awaits us below. Soon enough we will begin to encounter the others, humans and their dogs that share this space with us each morning. The meet and greet begins just as we finish the loop, and eventually we make our way across the threshold into the bright sun. The space in my heart holds firm. I can go off on as many tangents as I need to and know that I can return right here….

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