Autumn has always been my favorite season since moving to North Carolina. Cool nights discourage the biting insects and snakes. The humidity drops from “jungle” to tolerable. I always feel a sense of freedom after the brutal summer heat, and I once again enjoy my time outdoors, even if I’m raking leaves. (I’m not much for noisy leaf blowers.)
Many years ago, on a fall morning, I felt the desire to go for a run. It wasn’t typical of me to want to run when nothing was chasing me, but at that age it was something I did from time to time, when the weather allowed. Sometimes I wanted to stretch my legs. On other occasions, I wanted to to feel the wind through my hair. That’s something I feel like I took for granted, now that I sport less of it.
Running might not be typical of me, but getting lost is. In the days before GPS, where the land was uniformly flat and wooded, it was easy to do. I’ve never liked running through city scenery. Neighborhoods were the next best thing, since I didn’t want to drive to a park. Where I lived at the time, there were plenty of tree-shaded sidewalks where the car exhaust gave way to the smell of grass clippings.
The sound of the creek called to me. I angled toward it, naturally ignoring any street signs or other clues of my whereabouts. Going home was the least of my concerns. The fabled runner’s high was real and defied description, and it made every step effortless, freeing me from all bodily concerns. Until the high plateaued and then plummeted. Was that a stitch in my side? A twinge of discomfort in my ankle? Where exactly was I?
I walked, still young enough to brush off my pains with stubbornness. I recognized nothing at first but then realized that I had crossed the creek at some point. I backtracked but got mixed up somewhere along my route. Promising turns soon angled the wrong way and took me further from home. Had I crossed a bridge? I didn’t remember one. Stupid runner’s high. Stupid me.
Finally I decided to head for the river and follow it downstream, until I reached a bridge or a recognizable landmark. That seemed like a good plan, only later realizing that I would have to pass through people’s backyards, most of them fenced, and some of them patrolled by barking dogs. I wondered if I should backtrack through my backtracking to find a turn I’d missed or knock on someone’s door for directions. What was I thinking? Was I not a man? Men don’t ask for directions! The best reason for owning a GPS these days is not having to ask anybody for directions to anything.
I needed to cross the creek, a fairly substantial stream of whitewater. I knew how to swim, and I was almost sure it was cool enough for the snakes to regard me as too much work. Sneaking through a yard, I saw a large tree spanning the creek, providing me with a bridge toward home. What more could I have asked for?
Halfway across the creek, using a fallen tree for a bridge, is not the best place to come to your senses. Flood trash tangled around branches I hadn’t seen from shore. The bark was slick with sodden moss, and the drop to the rock-strewn water was decidedly greater than it appeared minutes before. I steeled myself, focused on my footwork, and continued to the far shore, breathing a well-earned sigh of relief. I was dry, and I wasn’t trapped under a fallen tree, drowning in the creek. All in all, it was a good day.
Sometimes life presents me with challenges. Even when I think I’ve found solutions, those often become slipperier than I first anticipated. I need to stay focused on my goals, resist the temptations to turn around, and keep pushing forward. Writing can be that way. Lots of things can, but believing in myself and persevering can more often than not take me where I need to go. What I really learned from the experience was that walking across a stream on a slippery, unstable tree trunk makes a much better metaphor than a means to reach home. I will never do that again.