It’s all a shot in the dark (or at least a leaf on the sidewalk)


If we’re counting, the best I could say is I found myself captured by an essay about a walk close to thirty years ago.

The words were nothing too sensational. The magic was in the observations made, the way the reader related to each thought, and the ability demonstrated to connect a writer with an audience.

Ever since, at times I feel like I’m trying to deliver a bit of similar magic. (And, usually wonder if I’m even coming close enough to consider it a success.)

To give you an example of what this particular essay accomplished, imagine any walk you’ve taken during your life. Perhaps it involved a dirt country road or a paved city sidewalk. It could have taken place during any of the seasons, along with extreme examples of weather that such timing might offer.

Now begin to fill in some of the surroundings. Lighting at the end of a driveway. Autumn leaves scattered on the ground along a path. A flower growing between the cracks in a cement slab. The scents from a lit fireplace… the sounds of a nearby river… dogs on a porch… manicured hedges and wild forsythia.

The other day, I was walking across our yard.

A swirling combination of factors had crashed together—a bit of dampness, the length of the grass, where I needed to go—and you could clearly see my footprints in the yard. And as I stopped and looked it over, I could begin to make out yesterday’s footprints as well.

The specific attention given for just a moment narrowed my focus. I noticed deer tracks through the grass. Softer and less defined, yes, but definitely there (and confirmed as deer by the marks in a nearby patch of mud on a road).

It’s been months since I’ve seen… actually, more than a year since I’ve seen deer in my yard. But they are still visiting. And whether I’m sipping on a coffee, washing dishes, or adjusting some shades on the windows, I usually take a few moments each day from inside to scan the yard for company.

Does that connect with you in some way?

Every spring, let’s say around mid-April, my mother and I have a conversation about hummingbirds. It generally starts the same way, with thoughts about sightings in recent days and getting feeders in place. But for us, it’s more. It goes into memories of her sister. We talk about places we’ve lived and the wildlife nearby. We share laughs about my father, a man that is constantly in motion, and makes both of us appear to be moving in reverse when it comes to tasks like keeping the bird feeders ready and the gardens maintained.

Perhaps such thoughts are special to you as well, but for many different reasons. Maybe you’re thinking about birds and woodchucks and more that make occasional appearances around your yard. Maybe you spend time with family and friends outdoors. Maybe you just really need to mow your own lawn.

Friend of mine and I were talking the other day. We were spending a few moments catching up while generally attempting to accomplish as little as possible. He brought a minute or two of silence to an end with a laugh. When I turned to look at him, he pointed to what appeared to be an otter moving into some brush on the other side of the road.

“That guy got me thinking,” he said, “about how you can leave your front door to walk those thirty or forty yards to your mailbox, and somehow you spot four or five different things that have real meaning. Things most of us take for granted.”

He’s right. I can take off on tangents from some of the simplest inspirations. Even now, writing this, I’m thinking about how people take shortcuts across the grass and wear in groves and paths that were never formally designed to be there.

I’ve actually heard that some places—think new city parks or business campuses—build the main outline of a property and then wait. After a few months, or maybe a year, the preferences of pedestrian traffic become easy to track. Worn grass here, packed dirt there. Once outlined by the feet of those using the land, the planners go back in and design more permanent walkways.

Back in my college days, we used to joke around with this expression: Even Freud said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Everything does not come with some mystical and heavy significance. And yet, there are mornings when I wonder about doing laundry, the rainwater backing up in the gutters, and other assorted bits, and I consider developing them. (And with some, I actually do.) But which ones are just cigars? Which ones are paths yet to be recognized.

There are leaves appearing on the ground. Near the trees where they had been on branches the day before. The fall and collection on the lawn began a few weeks ago, with one or two a day. Now each morning seems to arrive with dozens. In a week or two, the tree will only have a few remaining.

I’ll definitely notice it’s time to clean them up before they blow into the drainage ditch and create a major project. I wonder if I’ll notice anything else.


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