I hiked alone today. Not alone alone. There were the people who threw a stick in the river and the dog who jumped in after it. The woven-poncho wearing twenty-somethings who were disappointed they couldn’t actually enter the old abandoned mine. The grandma, the granddaughter, and the little girl’s young mother who never stopped talking. The girls carrying fluorescent hula hoops. The couple in galoshes. The man with the country music blaring from his backpack. I wasn’t exactly alone.
But I was.
Today was the second day of my solo retreat at Turkey Run State Park, a retreat I’d planned in an attempt to get a bunch of writing done on my novel, and to, you know, fix my life and stuff. I’m not exactly sure what wisdom or clarity I expected to gain in a day and a half, but whatever it was, I wasn’t getting it. I didn’t feel any better at all. In fact, I felt the same. Or maybe even worse. And if I wasn’t feeling better here, if getting away from regular life wasn’t fixing my problems, then what was the point in staying? I should probably just pack my stuff and leave early, like first thing tomorrow morning.
A couple of months ago, a new squirrel came around. He was a bit larger than some of the teen squirrels we had darting about our yard. He moved more slowly too. Then, I saw why. There was something wrong with his left, front paw. It hung there, bent and limp, as he hobbled across the grass.
I immediately extrapolated his life out about three months when there would be a foot of snow on the ground and weeks at a time of subzero temperatures. Minnesota winters are not kind to anyone, much less a squirrel with special needs. I wanted to help him. But what could I do? If I put out food for him, the other squirrels would get it first. I couldn’t bring him inside because of my cats. (And because my mom told me that it’s not a great idea to keep wild animals as pets.) So, I stared outside, knowing that life was only going to get harder for this little guy.
A couple of nights ago, I walked back inside my grandma’s house to find this little feller (that’s Indiana talk for fellow) hanging out on a window. We’d just been sitting out on the porch, my mom and I, watching evening turn to night and talking about life. In my family, there’s a lot of talking about life that happens at this time of day, and weather and mosquito permitting, it usually happens on a porch swing.
I’m back home in Indiana for a while. My grandma’s been sick and in the hospital twice in the past two weeks. The first time prompted my return from Minnesota. The second time, I was the one who was with her when her left arm went all tingly and numb and she started seeing flashes of light. She felt weak, and I felt helpless.
I went on a walk yesterday, down streets and sidewalks and a trail that eventually brought me to this scene.
It was beautiful, yes. But it wasn’t the sun-dappled path or the depth of green that made me stand there and wait for the bicycle guy to pedal around the bend so I could snap a photo. Floating across the path were dozens of tiny cottonwood seeds, each held aloft by a little ball of white fuzz. But picture after picture failed to capture even a single one. They were too small, too unassuming.