In late October dawn breaks in Crozet, Virginia a little past seven in the morning. It’s cold this week and I need gloves and a winter jacket for my walk. Two trail heads are a few breaths away from my door. This morning I choose the one that leads down for a bit, crosses a wood plank bridge and then climbs – not too far or too hard – and opens with a panoramic view of Beaver Creek and Bucks Elbow, two nearby peaks that are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which in turn are part of the Appalachian Mountain range that run from Maine to Georgia. On a crisp morning filled with dawn light coming in low and sparkling, like this perfect morning, Beaver Creek and Bucks Elbow are russet, or maybe a sort of blood orange color with flecks of crimson, gold and deep umber.
I set a strong pace, walking purposefully, slowing only to say good morning to the three white tailed deer whose breakfast I have disturbed. Two of the deer look up to stare at me, their brown eyes showing no fear of this interloper. The third doe, younger than the other two and perhaps more nervous about me stomping through her forest so early in the morning, looks at me, then at her companions, then back to me before springing away. My eyes track her five swift leaps that defy gravity and carry her from open grass to the thick brush in which she disappears. Her more experienced sisters follow with a slow saunter and more than a little attitude that shows no concern about where I’m going or what I might do next.
I turn my attention back to the trail. My footfalls begin to syncopate with each breath and as they do my body falls into a bright rhythm that gives the sun a run for its money and gives my mind permission to wander. And once my mind shakes off the detritus of the day before, that’s exactly what it does.
This time of year the tree roots and small rocks obvious during summer walks are hidden by a mosaic of wet, sticky leaves. My pace slows. The trail takes me past a pond that only last week was a resting spot for the Canada Geese flying south. On that day the mirrored surface, broken by the landing wake of one lone goose that dawdled somewhere over Waynesboro town, reflected the sky and clouds and colors of the hills. The Canada Geese are gone now but maybe their cousins, the Cackling Geese, will visit during winter. On this frozen morning though, all that rests on the water is a cold white mist that the sun will soon burn away.
I’ll be sixty-four next month. This year my birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. I know that sixty-four is old to some and young to others. Either way, on these mornings, with the damp and solid ground beneath my feet, I spend less time considering the road ahead, with all its joys and sorrows, and instead reflect on the joys and sorrows I found on the road I traveled. And I take the beauty surrounding me into my confidence. I open the jeweled reliquary that is my heart and tell these mountains all my secrets.
I confide in the dark winter berries, the crimson ones, too. I confide in the milkweed, bright green in spring but now dried and split to angel wings, their gossamer white threads glistening and weightless in the air. I confess my sins to the red shouldered hawk perched in judgment on the bare branches one hundred feet above me.
I trust the trail and the mountains, the deer and the geese. I trust the loam beneath my feet and the rising mist. I trust it all to hold my secrets. To listen in sacred silence. This earth, it’s ancient and knowing wisdom, will not try to fix a flailing human who isn’t broken.
Three miles later I exit the trail and follow the sidewalk past the blocks of shiny townhomes. Most are decorated for Halloween. The school bus stops so that I can jaywalk across Old Trail Drive. I pass a gaggle of kids with full backpacks and wearing shorts in stark contrast to my bundled body as they head toward the middle school around the corner on Rockfish Gap Turnpike. I am home. I am healed.