As we get older, most of us fall into routines: Internal schedules cemented over time wake us before the alarm. We take the same route to work because we already know the limitations of alternates. We eat our meals at a certain hour instead of letting our stomachs dictate.
There is comfort in our schedules. We’ve lived long enough to know there are very few “sure” things in life, so we create our own, wrapping our day in sameness like we wrap our bones in blankets at night. And there is boredom. Which we look forward to breaking up.
There can also be moments of pause, if we look for them.
My moment of pause occurs on my morning walk with the dog. I am unfortunate enough to have fallen in love with Laney, a mongrel who loves to run away (which means she’s always saddled with a leash), and who gets violently ill the moment a car starts its engines. At the same time, I live in a community sandwiched by development and fenced in by richer communities. So Laney and I mostly walk the same paths. One of those paths, however, takes me into a short patch of woods. Laney loves this little respite and acts as if we are on a great adventure, sniffing at tree roots and nosing underneath bushes and piles of leaves―convinced a grand treasure awaits if she can just find it. But unlike my last dog, Laney is not a nose hound, but rather a sight hound. While she loves the sniffing, it comes second to lifting her head and studying.
Laney is the one who gave me my daily moment of pause.
The path is at the edge of a hill, which is probably the reason this bit of woods will never be developed. Before the shopping center went in next door to our community, we’d frequently spot deer. I still see squirrels and rabbits; I think Laney sees much more.
When we’ve reached the end of the path, we will turn off in a direction towards home, leaving the hill behind. At that spot, however, Laney stops and assumes what I call the Hound Dog Forest Stance. Her tail goes up slightly, her legs stiffen and hold, her head pops up, and she freezes, gazing deeply down the hill and into the trees, her nose clenching and releasing as if assessing each scent individually. She will remain that way for several minutes.
Those minutes have become by moment. I stare with her into the trees, but gave up trying to pick out anything specific long ago. Instead, I see the beauty: the way the sunlight filters through the trees and chooses to spotlight a small patch of ground or circle of bark. The mix of light green and hearty dark green set against a tawny background with an occasional splash of white or color from blossoms. I hear the symphony: a woodpecker’s rhythmic tapping somehow tying together the wide variety of chirping songs. The fluttery snap of twigs as small unseen feet scamper across tree branches and forest floor. And the occasional bang, as something breaks under the crush of larger feet or fallen limb. I cannot smell what Laney smells, but I use my inferior human nose to catch the clean scent of breezes mixed with earthy muskiness.
And I feel without touching a bit of it.
I am always a bit sad when rainy skies and muddy grounds don’t allow us to walk that route. But when better weather gets us there, it makes up for any time away. Then, I take my moment of pause, I say “thank you” to God, and I tuck my moment into my heart and my brain to pull out when I need it.
Genilee Swope Parente