The Quiet Observer

This morning dawned as a perfect September day. I don’t know if I can convey to you just what it feels like after a summer of oppressive humidity, the air so wet that your glasses fog when you step outside, and even when the temperatures drop in the evening to what should be a reasonable level, it is still like trying to breathe underwater.

So when I woke up this morning to temperatures in the fifties (the FIFTIES!) and the air so clear and crisp it was like biting into a Red Delicious, it was a no-brainer as to what I would do this morning. Laundry? Uh, no, despite the fact that if I don’t do some soon that is not dog-related, I will be reduced to wearing my PJs. And I don’t own any PJs. Working on the presentation I’m supposed to give next week? Ugh. No. I need to do that, I know, I know. Working on my expanded version of Lightning in a Bottle, the novella that is part of the Going for Gold Anthology? Yes, definitely, I know I need to do that today. I will find the time somewhere.

But hands down the winner this morning was taking the dog out for a run in the National Forest. How could I resist? Lately H has lost both of his regular exercise activities, as the move to a new barn meant moving to a no-dogs barn, as well as losing access to a dog-friendly swimming pool that decided to close. When you have a 95 pound German Shepherd that needs to run until his brains come out his nose every day in order for you to live with him (otherwise it is a bit like having a 2 year old racehorse living in your house), finding the time and place to exercise him safely is challenging. Fortunately for us, a friend told me about a little used access road that takes me to a part of the forest that is not as well traveled as some. The paths are still well-marked, but they are more like goat-tracks with long winding climbs up a ridge and ankle busting rocks at every step. Not a favorite for joggers and cyclists, but perfect for me and the dog.

It occurred to me as I was huffing and puffing my way up this trail today that a change in routine might not be such a bad thing. I’d been pretty upset about the no-dogs policy at the new barn and stressing about how I would carve out yet ONE MORE activity in the day, given how I used to combine running the dog in the woods with my barn activity at the old place. When you are as pressed for time as I am on a routine basis, even small adjustments to the schedule are tough. Finding an extra hour and half to take the dog some place safe to run off lead–well, let me tell you–I thought I was looking at a future in which H never got to run off lead again. And I’m sorry, but I simply cannot run enough myself with him trotting alongside me to keep him fit and sane.

What I realized this morning though was I’d gotten complacent. The goat-track was tough; more of a workout than I’ve been doing lately. It was also beautiful, and there was an exhilaration in being in a different place for a change. My senses were on alert, my brain was not simply on autopilot. I gloried in the play of light and shadow on the path before me, the excitement of a happy dog running ahead. I even noticed the tiny little flying bugs that would light up from within when they flew into a sunbeam (and recall how Ridley Scott, a talented director in many ways, got that so very wrong in the little remembered Legend, filling the screen with so many golden gnats no one would have been able to speak in such a forest without eating them).

I am quite the shutterbug. I don’t have any real gift for it, and I have a pretty simple camera, but I love taking pictures. I think part of the reason I like taking pictures is because I have this insatiable need to ‘capture the moment’. I want to remember clearly how it felt to walk the sun-dappled path. To watch my dog come to a halt in front of me, a laughing grin on his face as his breath curls in a vapor around his panting mouth. To look at a picture of this morning six months from now and remember how great it felt to be in the woods on this September morning, the clear blue sky visible through the trees at the top of the ridge ahead of me. I have tons of pictures of my dogs, my cats, my horses in the sunlight. Pictures that are meaningful to no one but me. Pictures of the same scene over and over. Because I want to capture it.

Even as I was walking, I was thinking about writing this blog. I found myself comparing my out-of-shape walking muscles with my out-of-shape writing muscles and telling myself, “Oh, that’s good, you need to write that one down.” I realized that I’m much happier as an observer than a participant in most cases. I love taking pictures–I’d rather be the photographer than the competitor at the horse shows (though sadly, I wish at least ONE person of my acquaintance was any good with a camera because I don’t have a decent picture of me doing anything with any of my animals…)

I write because I want to capture moments with words. I want to put feelings into situations, to work out problems on paper. Even when I am going through some traumatic event in my own life, there’s a part of me in the background, quietly documenting my reactions and thinking, “Oh, this is soooo going in a story some day.”

Sometimes, though, you need to participate rather than observe. How else do you get more grist for the mill?

My latest release, Lightning in a Bottle, part of the Going for Gold Anthology, let me tap into my experiences (albeit on a small scale) into the world of eventing. I’d say more on the subject, but there is a very big horse waiting for me at the barn now, and I’d rather go ride her on this gorgeous day instead. 🙂

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