Fall is when I miss my home state of North Carolina the most. I long for Wolfpack football, showing cows at the state fair, and watching the leaves turn all sorts of red, orange, and yellow as the air gets cool and crisp, hinting of winter to come. But I’m not in N.C. these days and southwest Florida has a different set of rules for what constitutes an autumn day.
I’ve often found myself wishing I could be somewhere else, or waiting for the weekend to come so I could have some fun, or feeling sorry for myself because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. Haven’t we all been there? And what a waste that is, to long for something that isn’t while letting the gift of the present pass by unnoticed and unappreciated. I’ve been in that frame of mind too much lately – until this weekend when I went for a hike at one of my favorite places, the CREW Marsh Hiking Trails, and again this morning when I went for a walk around my neighborhood.
This morning I headed out on my usual 2-mile walk around the neighborhood. While this walk always makes me feel physically better, I too often spend much of it thinking about work or what I need to get done at home or occupied by some other mind-noise. Today, about a 1/2 mile into the walk, I heard a strange sound. A sort of creepy, drawn-out, strangled sound. And then I heard it again and again. I walked until I was near the sound coming from high up in a pine tree. I stood still, watching. Finally, I saw movement. There before me was a great-horned owl perched 30 feet high, watching me. The sound didn’t appear to be coming from the owl but rather from something the bird had caught and was gripping in its talons. My mind noise stopped. I was fully present and amazed and grateful to be able to witness such a magnificent predator. In that moment – for both the owl and me – nothing else mattered. This moment was a gift.
Yesterday, at CREW, the abundance of blooming and fruiting fall wildflowers was breath-taking. At every turn, on every path, brilliant color caught my eye among the lush green native trees and shrubs. Goldenrods, beautyberry, chocolate-weed, pineland purple, and pine lilies burst into view all along the trail. The spike rush and spotflowers dotted the edge of the marsh, and even a lonely grass pink orchid was still hanging on in this September bouquet of color.
In the popash slough, I heard a low humming sound thrumming through the high-pitched whine of mosquitoes near my ears. It turned out to be a swarm of honeybees high up in the canopy. And there, in the popash slough, was another sure sign of fall – golden brown leaves scattered all over the boardwalk, a carpet for my steps as I admired the moss-covered palms and delicately woven webs of crab spiders and golden orb weavers. The elegant beauty of the place wove its magic, and I marveled at the details.
Heading back toward the trailhead, two wild hogs appeared on the trail in front of me – meandering along, twitching their curly tails, oblivious to my presence. I stopped and watched them until they strolled out of sight around the bend. In that moment, as in every other moment along the trail, I was fully engaged, completely there, focused on the here and now – and I was happy. I appreciated being here in southwest Florida in the fall. I am grateful for the CREW Trails and their beauty and their ability to captivate me fully. I’m glad they reminded me of the importance of being fully present.
Imagine the good we can do in the world if we are focused fully on the present, totally committed to the people we encounter each moment of each day, engaged in conversations that are meaningful and touching, appreciating the gifts that surround us every day, making a difference by being present in each moment. It’s not always easy, but it can be done.
1. Find your happy place.
2. Just be – more than you think.
3. Take Three Deep Breaths (I highly recommend Tom Crum‘s book).
4. Chunk it – take one moment at a time.