31 Days:: Artist Date: Ridge

Legacy (1)

Day 5: Artist Date: Ridge

The Artist Date is a practice dreamed up by Julia Cameron, intending to help folks learn how to become better at noticing their surroundings and, thus, become better writers. I attempted this on my favorite hiking trail a few weeks ago:


My big black monster of a dog and I plug up the path at a brisk pace.  Though this route is as familiar as my own backyard, today I plan to actually pay attention to my surroundings rather than listen to a sermon or dictate a blog post while I hike, which are my usual habits when I happen to get a few precious moments to myself.  But I’m not planning to stop and notice much until I’ve first gotten a good workout in.  So off we go, trekking to the top as quick as possible.  On the way up, as my lungs huff and puff with exertion, my legs send messages of alarm due to the pace I’m keeping.  I feel challenged and alive.  My soul smiles as I breathe satisfaction in deeply.

This is my soul’s happy place.

As I pass the cows near the water trough, I call my dog to me so that he doesn’t frighten them into a stampede.  Thousands of big, black carpenter ants work on their never-ending job of relocation at my feet.  I keep moving.  Only one more steep inline to go.

I pass mistletoed oaks and have to dodge loose rocks threatening to thwart my footing on this last ascent.  When I reach the top, exhilarated by the pleasure of blood pumping throughout my body, I stop.  I am pleasantly weary.

I stand there for a few moments, just breathing in the aroma of dirt, olive trees, and my own bitter sweat.  I’ve never stood still here before— I’m usually in too much of a hurry to get in as much movement as possible before I have to go back and face the daunting task of motherhood again.

So I stand.  And I hear… mostly silence.  An occasional fly buzzing by my head.  Birds hopping around in the olive grove near me.  There are hundreds of olive trees up here.  I’ve hiked past them countless times… how have I never stopped to notice how their branches poke out like tiny spears?  How have I never realized that the birds must consider this a favorite hangout— I can’t even count how many birds I hear hopping around and chatting with each other in that grove.  Three olives drop from the branches as I stand here.  Their soft “plop… plop-plop!” on the ground draws my attention to the many tiny olive leaves all over the ground.  Titan, my skinny-as-a-spider Great Dane, leans on my thigh and pants from our trek up the hill.  I hear a plane far in the distance, but I don’t see it anywhere.  The flies keep buzzing by my head, no doubt attracted by the sweet scent of sweat on my invigorated body.  The sun shines through the tall weeds causing them to look like they’re glowing.

Titan and I journey on, in search of more physical exertion.
Our next stop is near some huge oak trees in the shadow of a big hill with squirrel homes pock-marking its side. There is a pitiful little stagnant pond here with rusty brown water and thousands of fallen oak leaves mucking up the water.  A fly lands on my shoulder and I twitch it off, annoyed at the existence of bugs.  I take a swig from my water bottle, grateful that I don’t have to drink this murky liquid in front of me.  A bird chirps from the droopy, ancient looking oak above.
I recall the bobcat I spotted around here a few months ago.  It was just sitting there, on the other side of the gorge at my left, calmly and regally looking out towards the valley.  By the time I walked around the bend to try to get a closer look, it was no longer there.  I never saw it again.
We journey on.
I hear the piercing sound of crickets in the field of weeds nearby.  A dog barks down in the valley below where the houses are.  A Red-Tailed Hawk screeches in the distance.  There are no other humans up here right now.  Ahhhh… alone at last.
I get to a fork in the road. Although I’d prefer to take the path that leads to a more remote area of this trail system, I take the wide, well-traveled path because I know it leads to a water fountain where Titan can get some liquid refreshment.
As we approach the water source, a black lab bounds happily alongside his owners as they come toward us.  I guess I’m not the only one up here after all, I muse.  As Titan laps up his hydration, the cool breeze washes over me and cools off my warm, sticky body.
It’s time to head down now, I realize, as I check my phone and see how much time I’ve spent up here.  I click my tongue for Titan to come to my side and he jovially trots over.  We continue our bouncy jaunt down the hill.  Back to the car.  Back to real life.  Back to kids and meal-making and cluttered houses.
me and titan on a hike

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What about you?

Have you ever gone somewhere with the express purpose of just being present in the moment?  Is it a challenge for you to simply “be” and notice your surroundings?

Please feel free to share your journey in the comment section below.