A few days ago, I walked five times, each a long, unplanned meandering. Though I almost always answer the call of the sidestreets, on the third time I cut through to reach the trail that traverses Northwest Arkansas. I’d lost track of time listening to TED talks about love, psychology, work, technology, and language. Ideas make my feet lighter than air. The creek along the trail wasn’t fast-moving, but its sounds, intermixed with the rustle of the encroaching trees and camouflaged birds, transfixed me.
A few minutes later, I reached one of the breaks in the foliage, one exposing a series of stones strategically placed across the creek. Without thought, I stepped off to cross the rocks. “Be careful,” I told myself. As everyone knows, river stones can be beguiling in their slipperiness. All of us have hopefully experienced the momentary horror of knowing we’re going to fall in, no matter how madly we windmill our arms for balance. My surgery incision tends to call out to me when I’m pondering crossing a fallen log, jumping a park bench, or climbing a tree. Oh, how I miss climbing trees! I’ve climbed fifty in the last year, even when the wind was dormant and the sun baked the upper reaches of the available trees. Few things can provide such a unique perspective. Sitting on a live thing, smelling the pungency of the leaves, and most of all, watching things and people move about with no concern for the possibility of someone sitting above them in the branches.
Halfway across, I forgot that I was crossing and stepped to the left, my feet submerging into the water. My shoes filled with water and my socks became soggy. I walked several yards through the middle of the creek. It was heavenly and my hot feet dispelled that heat into the water. I stood there, feeling the sensation.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” asked a voice.
I looked around and saw no one.
“I’m over here,” the voice said. Because I was concentrating, I saw the woman sitting on the bank, her back against a tree. She had a book in one hand and a large bottle of soda in the other.
“Yes! It is fantastic. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” I turned to walk back toward the traversing stones.
“You can stand there in the creek if you want. It’s everybody’s to enjoy,” she told me.
“What are you reading?” I asked her.
“Where The Crawdads Sing,” she told me, holding the book up.
“What a coincidence. I read that. It was a beautiful story.”
“Yes, this is my third reading.” She smiled.
I turned and walked back to the stones and away from the creek. All the way home, my feet squished as I walked. This time, I had not been the observer. Someone else had found a secret place and a way to enjoy it. My feet didn’t feel so wet any longer. All I could think about was the cool water and reading place by the creek.