A New Walking Place
This summer, I have almost abandoned my former favorite place to walk. I have found a new walking place, and I have been walking there almost every single day this summer – even on days when the temperature was up there nibbling at 100 degrees (that’s about 38 degrees Celsius for those of you in other lands).
Sadly, my old walking place became too popular. They filled it with soccer fields and vending machines. They built a beautiful wooden boardwalk where the old dirt trail used to be. It’s nice, that’s for sure, but it’s not as nice as the days when the woods were untamed and bordered by farm fields and land grown wild and the trail was just a dirt trail that got muddy when it rained.
And don’t get me wrong it’s really nice, and I still walk there sometimes. But the sounds of people walking dogs, riding bikes and parents cheering their kids on in soccer games, has taken a lot of the old magic away.
I’ve found a new quieter place to walk, and I think like it better.
My new favorite place to walk is about five or six miles from my house, so it’s not as convenient as the old walking place, which was right around the corner. But I don’t mind driving to get to Winslow’s – that’s what I call it — everyone else calls it the cemetery.
I like it there. I don’t mean to sound creepy, morose or preoccupied with death (but aren’t we all?), but it’s beautiful there and the dead don’t talk or make any sound – at least none that I recall.
They’re all quiet. and that’s fine by me.
The cemetery is huge – almost 2 square miles. The gravel roads form circles that encompass tombstones that stand guard over the dead like faded, worn sentries. There are dozens of these circles forming islands of tombstones all over the cemetery. Now I walk these gravel roads day after day, choosing a new route every day. Day after day after day – and I’ve never walked the same route twice.
And I’ve never heard any cheering or shouting from a soccer game – not that I have anything against soccer or cheering. It’s just nice to be in the company of these quiet folks – most of them a long time gone.
Another nice feature of my new walking place is the wildlife sanctuary across the street. It is replete with verdant trails that wind up and down through the woods which grow up and down the rolling hills.
When it’s very hot and sunny, my walk often takes me through the cemetery and across the street to cool shade of the wildlife sanctuary, where the trees grow so high and so thickly that I have to take my sunglasses off so I can see where I’m going.
I don’t love my new walking place because everything is like paradise there…nope. There have been times when peaceful and serene are adjectives that didn’t apply.
One day, several weeks ago, I was walking in the cemetery when it started to rain. Looking at the sky, it did not seem so threatening, so I decided to duck into the walking trails in the wildlife sanctuary across the street – instead of heading for the safety of my car. The tree cover is so thick in the sanctuary, that when it’s raining lightly, as it was on that day, the rain never reaches the ground – nor me.
I sure thought I was outsmarting Mother Nature, and for a while I did.
I was tromping around the trails in the woods, warm and dry, when suddenly thunder rumbled and lightning flashed all around. And then the wind started howling and the rain turned into a deluge. It was raining so hard that even that thick tree cover provided me not an ounce of protection.
There I was, miles from home, in the middle of a forest of tall trees, lightning flashing – and it suddenly dawned on me that I could be joining my friends across the street in the cemetery very soon – if one of those bolts of lightning decided to pop me in the head.
From my Cub Scout days, I remembered scouting rule: If you get caught outdoors in a bad storm with a lot of lightning – seek cover by finding the lowest lying area.
The woods’ steepest slopes are those the lie along the eastern edge. And I’m telling you they’re steep. But as I was about to learn that day, they are even steeper than I thought.
It was raining so hard, I could barely see, as I made my way to the highest and steepest slope. My plan was to climb down the slope to the nearly dried-up river bed at the bottom and find some refuge from the raging storm and the lightning flashing all around me.
I slowly made my way down the hill by grabbing onto the smaller trees, inching carefully down the slope. This worked fine until I was about half-way down when, in the pouring rain, the ground turned into a slippery slurry of water and mud. I lost my footing and quickly found myself on my back sliding rapidly down into the abyss. Luckily, I was able to stop myself by using my feet and jamming them against huge maple tree that serendipitously appeared during my wild descent. That tree prevented me from falling into the nearly dried-up (but not completely dried-up) rocky river bed — and potential injury to my old, brittle bones.
The rain was pouring and pounding down, the lightning and thunder were crashing everywhere around me and there I lay, drenched and covered with mud, tree branches and wet leaves.
Luckily, none of my friends in the cemetery saw me, not that they’d care anyway. I’m sure they know a lot more than I do about they “whys” of life and death. Thankfully, no one living saw me either, as I lay on the ground in the torrential rain, soaking wet and covered with mud and debris.
They say that “all good things must come to an end” and that’s true. But it’s also true that all bad things come to an end.
The storm abated, the sun peaked through the clouds and I made my way up the hill, soaked and caked with mud and leaves, as I crossed the road to the cemetery and tromped about a mile through the cemetery to my car.
None of my cemetery friends laughed at me – and I did not see a living soul anywhere around. Lucky me.
When I got back to my car, I realized I’d left my windows open – the CLOTH seats were soaking wet and so was I. I found a dry jacket in the trunk of my car and laid it on the seat. I sat down, started my car and drove back home where I immediately peeled off those wet muddy clothes and hopped into a hot shower … and washed away the memories and the mud of the day.
I do still love my new walking place.
Today is a hot, sunny, breezy summer day. I park my car near the back of the cemetery next to a line of woods bordered by Black-Eyed-Susans and other pretty wildflowers. I sit in my car, windows down, and lazily look down across the green grass and gravel roads and rows and rows and rows of tombstones glistening in the bright, late summer sun.
The sun is warm on my skin; the breeze balances the heat nicely. The only sound is the rustling of the trees as they dance in the gentle and warm summer wind.
Money could never buy me a day like this … or a feeling like this.
This lovely day and all its beauty reminds me once again that the really important things in life are the things we like to do and the people we love.
If you don’t think that’s true, ask my friends over there in the cemetery. Ask them what was important to them as they were dying – do you think any of them, if they could speak, would tell you – “my possessions and my money”?
My new walking place has already filled my life with new memories and new experiences, as well as new thoughts and new feelings.
And as I sit here getting ready to take another walk on another day in the life, I realize again that there’s no money in heaven…there is only love. Money can’t buy the things that are worth the most. Possessions and money don’t matter, and regardless of how many people try to tell you they do, don’t believe them, because it’s just not true…
I have a lot of good friends here in the cemetery, but I don’t know a single one of them.
Now it’s time to take my walk. Would you care to join me?