Trail Walk

Trail Walk

Gwen McNamara, Pace Center for Civic Engagement

Honorable Mention

2016-2017 Staff Essay Contest

 

Crunch.

With one snowy step I enter another world.

Crunch.

Nature’s confetti celebrates my arrival. Sunlight glints through the trees as a gentle breeze creates a cascade of glittering snowflakes tumbling from the branches above. I smile and turn my face upwards, letting the cool specks land and make new freckles on my nose and cheeks.

Crunch.

I breathe deep, bringing the chill air into my lungs, savoring the cool freshness. When I exhale, curls of smoky dragon’s breath swirl and fade out of sight.

Crunch.

With each step down the winding trail, I discover new treasures. The crescent-moon impressions of a deer’s sure-footed hoof. A skittering squirrel looking for his hidden snack. A feathery companion looking to chat. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” he says, flitting from briar branch to briar branch. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee to you, too,” I reply, giving him a little nod. He joins me for a stretch, making the softest of tracks in the disappearing snow.

Crunch.

With Washington Road just a few feet away, the dull whir and whoosh of cars and trucks rushing by fades in and out. I pay no attention, instead tuning my ear to a different symphony. To my right a mockingbird does its best cardinal impression. Up ahead blue jays squawk and squabble in the pines. On a nearby rooftop, crows call to one another as if they’re sharing some juicy gossip.

Crunch.

I take off my glove and bend down to drag my fingers in the snow, raking slender Zen garden lines along the path beside me as my mind wanders down a wintry memory lane.

Crunch.

To a time when snow meant excitement and anticipation.

Crunch.

To a time when snow was for rolling in, rolling up, and throwing at your unexpecting younger brother.

Crunch.

To a time when a much smaller me walked hand-in-hand with my father. His big, leathery work glove engulfing my poofy snow mitten. My father pulling “trusty red” behind him as we trudge through the snowy woods, icy pellets dancing on the ground. We were going sledding on the hillside pasture across the creek, but I almost didn’t want us to ever get there. Me by his side. No words. No conversation. Just us and the quick zwhip-zwhip of my snow pants as I try to keep up with his mighty strides.

Crunch.

A popping twig snaps me back to the trail at hand. Up ahead a woman approaches. Head down, “You wouldn’t believe what he said,” she yammers into the butt of her phone held a few inches from her face, ear buds blocking the other half of the conversation. “Uh huh. I know, really,” she adds, giving me the quickest of glances as she squeezes past. I share a small nod in return, glad I have my phone on mute. No bings. No bongs. No calls. No Facebook. No emails. No checking in or looking up.

Crunch.

This is my time to disconnect, to think, to breathe, to be.

Crunch.

Outside I can escape. I can embrace the whipping wind and watch the dancing clouds race by. I can smell the muddy earth as the snow melts away and hear the joy of birdsong all just a stone’s throw from my day-to-day in the Frist Campus Center.

Crunch.

A few minutes a lunchtime may not seem like much, but it doesn’t matter as long as I’m “out there.” The short trail along Washington Road winds under Streicker Bridge and slinks alongside the Princeton Neuroscience Institute before passing 1952 Stadium, Sherrerd Field, and Bedford Field and arriving at Lake Carnegie, the boathouse, and D&R canal path. But it’s so much more than just a simple short-cut or way to get from here to there.

Crunch.

It has just the right amount of hill, and rock, and woods.

Crunch.

The trees offer cool shade on the hottest of summer days. The bubbling creek on the opposite side of the road shares a calming song in the springtime when skunk cabbage and May apple come to call. And just as snowflakes fall, so, too, does autumn’s annual blaze covering the ground in a carpet of bright red, yellow, and orange.

Crunch.

From those wintry walks with my father, I learned that sometimes the best times are quiet times. Times when you take a moment to notice what’s around you. To treasure who you’re with. To take it in, savor it, and smile.

Crunch.

Here on this trail I am quiet. I am calm. I am happy. Here I smile.


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