I take walks. I like exploring new trails when on vacation, but around home, I have a few routes that I take regularly. In some nearby parks, such as the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, I have walked the trails for more than thirty years.
You can see that as repeating the same experience, but in fact each walk is different. Even if I’ve walked a trail a thousand times, there is something new. There are seasonal changes—the bittersweet ripens in autumn, the eagles nest in early spring. There are variations in weather—sun, clouds, rain, ice, frost, mud, wind. There are the big upheavals that change a place forever: the oil spill, the construction of the new visitors’ center, the paving of the trail, the hurricane that washed out bridges, the death of certain landmark trees. Animals come and go. I have seen pheasant, rabbits, deer, turtles, snakes, swans, egrets, herons, eagles, cormorants, seagulls, ducks, geese, swallows, squirrels, fish—but not all at once. One visit shows me something, another visit shows me something else.
Sometimes you can see the Philadelphia skyline. Sometimes a train rumbles by. Once there was a brush fire across the creek. Sometimes the creek's tide is high, sometimes low.
But most of all, I’m different each time. I have gone there to think, to celebrate, to mourn, to worry, to escape. I have gone alone and with friends. I first went there as a student, with a teacher and classmates. I went there on a hiking date with the man who would become my husband
Once I took a wildflower guide and walked very slowly, stopping to identify different plants. (It was on that trip I discovered the Venus’s looking-glass and the Deptford pinks—flowers I’d undoubtedly passed many times without truly seeing them before.) Other times I’ve walked swiftly, fitting the three-mile loop into an hour. Sometimes I’ve sat on one of the benches with a friend and talked, and listened, and lost track of time altogether.
Sometimes it seems as if we’re in a rut, doing the same thing, seeing the same people, going to the same places. Yet if we pay attention, we see that nothing is exactly the same from day to day. This day in front of us has never occurred before. We are really starting over, and anything can happen.