Finding Gifts

I have been in need of gifts. Oh, I don’t mean the kind you get at Christmas or Valentine’s Day. I do not need more stuff. I came into this world with less than I could carry and I’ll go out that way too. Besides, my house is full.

I’m talking about a different sort of gift, a spiritual gift. I’ve been going on quiet walks with my dog, Teddy, and along the way, I’ve been finding tiny miracles. It helps that I’m looking for these gifts now. The first one just sort of popped out at me.

I’d been sick and sick at heart as well. I was also disappointed that none of my walking buddies were around, so I had to walk all by myself that day. Teddy didn’t mind. He was exuberant, jumping around and racing back and forth past me. He probably ran three times as far as I walked. I walked slowly, without enthusiasm. I was cold. Do you remember those days when even the trails had black ice on them? It was during those days. I can tell you that I did not, at first, want to be out there, but Nick had been sick and Teddy had stayed very patient about not getting out for his walks.

Well, as soon as Nick got better, Teddy seemed to burst out of his fur. He understands, sweet dog that he is, when people are sick, but his patience ends when they are on the mend. I headed out while Nick was at school. I was only walking along the trail by Lake Alice road. I walk there so often, I forget to see it, my mind a blur of obligations, errands, and personal drama.

On that first day of the tiny gifts, it was a miracle I even saw my tiny miracle, I was so down in my own sludge, but the air was refreshing and Teddy, who was maybe my first real gift of the day, was so incredibly happy.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to stay grumpy when you’re with someone who is ecstatic? You’re right. Teddy was my first gift that day.

Then, came a second. I had stopped to spit off the bridge. I started doing that when Nick was younger but I still like to see how long it takes that little glob of spittle to hit the ground below me. It’s a measure of distance, I had told Nick, and we could calculate how far down it was if we tried. (Don’t you love when you’re with a kid and you find physics and math in spitting off a bridge?)

So, when I leaned out over the wooden railing, I notice that frost had gathered there. When I looked closely, there were tiny spikes of crystals, all lined up in rows along the grain of the wood. It was stunning, as if I were looking at a tiny wooden street lined with crystal buildings of all the same height. When I looked up, I could see that the entire length of this railing had the same kind of crystals growing there.

To Teddy’s confusion, I stood there and looked closely at this frost for a while. I hadn’t known how much I needed to see this. It was like finding a Who village on the seed of a dandelion puff, a whole different perspective on something so small. I tried to take pictures with my iPhone, but they didn’t show what I saw very well. It’s like that sometimes, isn’t it, the pictures only reminding you of the neat thing that you saw without really capturing the beauty of it?

When I realized my time was up and I needed to head back, I went back to walking with a different face. I was with Teddy now. It was a lovely day. I looked forward to the rest of it.

The next time I was forced to walk alone, I wondered if I’d find another Who village. I even went back to the same trail, certain that this place held the magic that no other trail would hold.

It was cold again, but not quite as cold as before. I was sad to see that most of the frost was gone, but there it was, another gift, on top of a post on that same bridge. This time, I found a tiny plant, a pale green lichen or fungus. It had red blossoms on it, as if someone had planted a miniature garden on the top of that post. Again, it was stunning on a very small scale.

Then next time I went walking, I found that at temperatures near freezing, which it was, exposed dirt sends up long branches of ice crystals. I was beginning to wonder if I’d stepped into an alternate universe whenever I came here.
I decided to experiment. The next time my walking friends ditched me, I headed somewhere else entirely. This time, I was actually looking for gifts. What would I find? I had my stupid camera ready. I knew I’d never capture the beauty, but that I’d remember it when I saw the picture and that was good enough.

This time, I found art, rusted blue and green graffiti on another old bridge. Jackson Pollock couldn’t have painted it so well. I took a dozen photos, never quite capturing the loveliness of the paint, the rust, and the thick round rivets on the bridge.

Since then, I find that I don’t go out without looking for a gift. They are everywhere, these tiny gifts. I realize I didn’t have to go to a certain place to find them. I only needed to think I might find something if I looked for it closely enough. I only needed to open my eyes.

Thank you for listening, jules


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