Thoreau I ain’t. But I do like the occasional walk through the woods…along an established trail…of a known and manageable distance…as long as the bugs aren’t too annoying. I am far more inclined toward B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two than its namesake original.
But I can appreciate nature as well as the next urbanite, so I sauntered off into the untamed wilderness of the Potawatoni State Park forest for a 1.7 mile adventure. The first surprise was the enormous racket. From the incessant chip-chip-chip of quite possibly thousands of chipmunks to the munch-crunch of squirrels rotating acorns in their dainty paws, to the blaring warnings of geese aimed at flying interlopers, a cacophony of sounds surrounded me. Not the least alarming was the occasional thud of a heavy-husked black walnut pummeling its way through the branches.
I wandered up and around the toboggan run, down past a playground and into the Nature Center. Inside I found a nice collection of turtles (sadly they were missing my favorite spiny softshells from my recently departed Youghiogheny River walks) and a wonderful viewing window displaying a bird feeding station just outside. Flittering all among the dozen or so stations were sparrows and finches, woodpeckers and nuthatches, and of course the perennial mourning doves.
I continued on down a now less thoroughly paved path back toward the Inn. I am always amazed at how our minds over time are so apt at categorizing sensory inputs. I recognized every creature as I spied or heard it rustling through leaves or announcing its presence as I approached.
Suddenly, I spotted out of the far side of my vision an unusual hopping motion. I stopped and turned, hoping to determine more accurately its location and cause. After I few seconds, I saw the hop again and spied a toad. I imagine it was your basic American Toad, living across lots of states. I found myself instantly whisked back through time to my childhood, when such finds seemed endlessly plentiful and tirelessly exciting. I honestly could not remember the last time I saw a toad, but I distinctly recalled the joy I experienced when I discovered them as a child. I fondly reclaimed memories from deep in my mind’s archive of holding their warty, cold bodies in my hand.
I wondered if everyone, no matter how challenging, stressful, or simply awful their youth has similar memories – simple delights that bring smiles to faces and carry away concerns and fears. I certainly hope so. I fervently hope that everyone has some trigger back to a time in their lives that was relatively free of cares and scares, of anguish and pain, of loss and betrayal. I hope you can take a moment today – perhaps even every day – to saunter someplace in your mind where a toad sits waiting for your curious finger to stroke its smooth, bumpy skin.