Friday, May 29, 2015

forested city

Nowadays, people resort to all kinds of activities in order to calm themselves after a stressful event: performing yoga poses in a sauna, leaping off bridges while tied to a bungee, killing imaginary zombies with imaginary weapons, and so forth. But in Miss Penelope Lumley's day, it was universally understood that there is nothing like a nice cup of tea to settle one's nerves in the aftermath of an adventure- a practice many would find well worth reviving. 
Maryrose Wood, from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Series
 **all subsequent quotes in this post are also taken from this incomparable series of books 

This spring, I have been walking, then walking fast, and now am sort of ambling in a slow paced clumsy run through the trail system in the conservation lands across the river from our property.  

This is not something I expected to be doing, or expected to need to be doing, with all the natural exercise that putting in our gardens and caring for our home that that property naturally offers.  But I am finding that I enjoy the movement while exploring the urban wild, taking one of our dogs along along the trail, and the time it gives me to think, reflect, and center myself.  In this time of the school year ending, of the end of year busy, of feeling the passage of time and the stew of the losses and excitement of what is to come, I was looking for something to do that was quiet, and would give me a few moments each day to shore myself up for all the pulls and demands and emotions each day is bringing.
In this way Penelope's happy and sad feelings got all mixed up together, until they were not unlike one of those delicious cookies they have nowadays, the ones with a flat circle of sugary cream sandwiched between two chocolate-flavored wafers. In her heart she felt a soft, hidden core of sweet melancholy nestled inside crisp outer layers of joy, and if that is not the very sensation most people feel at some point or other during the holidays, then one would be hard pressed to say what is.
To put it all in perspective and the allow me to step back into the now of each day.
If you have ever opened a can of worms, boxed yourself into a corner, ended up in hot water, or found yourself in a pretty pickle, you already know that life is rarely (if ever) just a bowl of cherries. It is far more likely to be a bowl of problems, worries, and difficulties. This is normal and should not be cause for alarm.
I think one of the reasons I am motivated and able to stick with this activity right now is because I have found a book series that I am so enjoying, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, by Maryrose Wood.   The books are so very funny with little moments of beauty of words and sentiments, and the audio book versions are superbly read and performed.   With the audiobooks' British narrator guiding you along for the adventure, the books read like a combination of a traditional British children's book with perfectly matched and placed modern humor and wit.  And the main character, Penelope, a governess to three young children who -- unlike our own three children who I sometimes wonder if they have been -- were quite literally raised by wolves.   Penelope is somehow part Amelia Bedelia, part Maria Von Trapp, and part Mary Poppins, and -- I would venture -- part Hillary Clinton in this mix as well.  The story, and its fabulous morals and quotable passages, have become the soundtrack of my walks.
As Agatha Swanburne* once said, 'To be kept waiting is unfortunate, but to be kept waiting with nothing interesting to read is a tragedy of Greek proportions.
* Agatha Swanburne is the formidable, oft-quoted founder of Penelope's alma mater, the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. See? Hilarious.

Our public library has the series available as audio books, and I have discovered all sorts of clever ways to allow me to listen to it while walking -- but also while doing other activities that keep me moving such as gardening but that do not necessarily lend themselves to wearing headphones.

Bowls amplify sound.  Who knew?

Of course, all new activities have a bit of a learning curve.  And each time I head off to the trails, I get it a little bit more right.  
A well-organized stocking drawer is the first step toward a well-organized mind.
Such as headphones that actually stay on my ears.  And wearing shorts with pockets for car keys and my iPhone.  Though I was proud of my safety pin solution to having lost my car keys for a few moments along the trail.  Ahem.
There is no alarm clock like embarrassment.

I am even more pleased with finding a pair of shorts in the back of the closet that have zippered pockets.  Oooh.

And, last week, I bit the bullet and made another commitment, designating my running sneakers from high school as my new garden shoes and I bought myself a respectable pair of sneakers.  And these don't lose chunks of the soles every time I take a step.
It makes no difference what you wear, really. I'll put you in a dark grey. I believe I have some left over from a funeral, says the dressmaker.
I read up on all of these improvements, of course.  And I was happy to see that the main character of the series, Penelope Lumley, is also a reader, one who retreats to the pages of a book when beginning new ventures.
Penelope had read several novels about such governesses in preparation for her interview and found them chock-full of useful information, although she had no intention of developing romantic feelings for the charming, penniless tutor at a neighboring estate. Or - heaven forbid! - for the darkly handsome, brooding, and extravagantly wealthy master of her own household. Lord Frederick Ashton was newly married in any case, and she had no inkling what his complexion might be.
So far I have come upon beavers, and birds, and rodents (though none of unusual sizes thus far).  There has been much rustling in the underbrush, giving rise to vivid visions in my imagination, and in the imagination of our dogs.
Elk have not been seen in Switzerland for many a year. In the interests of scientific accuracy, please strike the idea of elk from your mind. If you must, think of ibexes instead, a fierce and agile type of goat with great spiraling horns. Marmots will also do in a pinch, but under no circumstances should you think of elk. No. Elk. The elkless among you may now proceed.
I have also gotten out of the way of a man on a unicycle, of a large pack of young men riding their bicycles rather silently through the woods, and have stopped at thousands of trees for Millie or Sirius to sniff where another canine clearly once was.
The truth is that one cannot go through life without being annoyed by other people, and this was just as true in Miss Penelope’s Lumley’s day as it is in our own. Annoyance is a fact of life; one ought not to lose one’s grip because of it.
I have answered the question I always get when out with our five year old dog Millie, how old is your puppy? with She's very silly isn't she?  Because she too tries to tear off after squirrels just like the Incorrigibles do. Squirrels are an issue for many.
This is called “selective truth telling” and it is frequently used in political campaigns, toy advertisements and other forms of propaganda.
And so, increasingly appropriately clad and, with tweaks made to leashes and human and canine behavior while out and about, I am working my way along the trails.

Even in the few weeks during which I have been out there, I am noticing the passage of time in the urban wild. What is blossoming and greening up and growing out there has changed. First the trails were edged with dandelions, and now those are gone, new blooms taking their place.

Which, every time I try to snap a shot of them with my iPhone, my dog photobombs.

Here are a few shots of my last walk.  These walks that I am so enjoying with a story that keeps me stepping off and forward.  And quiet that allows me to be.
You're not where you were, and you're not where you're going. You're here, so pay attention!

I am moving further along the trails each time I go.  And discovering new little places tucked away in our urban forest.  And heading back into the happy chaos and changes and adventures with a bit more pluck and a good deal of opt-too-muchism.
When the impossible becomes merely difficult, that's when you know you've won.

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