When the signs are subtle but strong. When the wind shifts and the sun’s arc across the sky changes a bit. When the perfume in the air takes on another scent and something deep inside me responds to a silent signal, I take walk. Not another brisk walk with the dogs to get my heart rate up and burn off the calories, but a slow walk to quiet my racing heart and racing mind. To catch my breath. To see what is happening in the world around me.
I live near a park. An old park full of acres of trees and paths and stone buildings and secret places tucked into the nooks and crannies. We go there often, to exercise the dogs or ride our bikes, but at least once at the very beginning of each season I go deliberately alone.
I go when I want to meander, to investigate any rock or tree or bush along the way. When I need to measure time in the ancient way, by the changes in the landscape and sky. Usually, I eventually make my way to one particular spot; a wild, less manicured place tucked into the curve of one of the paths.
There are more beautiful places in the park, to be sure. Carefully tended gardens with elaborate beds and tall topiaries. Rose gardens with a sunset view and classic white arbors and pergolas. Rows of iris and a meadow of lilacs.
But time after time, I find myself heading to the quiet spot between the showier spaces.
I go there to measure the movement of time. To note the subtle shift of the seasons. To see how one small corner of the world changes, dances to Mother Nature’s tune without much help
In the winter, I stand and watch the way the snow drifts on the branches of the tall tree. In the spring I taste the fruit borne by the tree. In summer I let the leaves shade me and cool me and provide shelter from the sun.
Each season, everything in this little corner is different. The sun comes in from a different slant. The earth smells sweeter in fall, richer in summer. Flowers bloom in spring and foliage is deep green in summer. The people I encounter are different, as well. In the softer seasons the path is filled with people who talk and laugh as they go by. In the deepest part of winter I can stand there for long stretches of time without seeing anyone at all. When someone does pass they are silent and intent, lost in their own thoughts.
In some ways, it seems a shame to mark the seasons at the foot of a tree tucked into a city park when the world offers bigger views. Tall mountains. Deep canyons, dense and dark forests and wild water. And I do explore those places when I can.
But the path in the park is close to home. And in that quiet spot I can, for as long as I will let myself, stop moving so fast and let the spinning planet do all the work.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org