(Almost) Autumn Hikes and Room to Breathe

It’s almost autumn. The mid-afternoon sun is hot, and in the orchard, sleepy cows rest in the shade of an apple tree. Although the tree is old and gnarled, its leaves are still green and plump fruit hangs red. Near the fence, thistles are bursting with wisps of seed waiting to be caught in the breeze. A hawk rests on a fence post then startles when we come close to snap a picture.

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My husband takes my hand and the children run ahead of us, climbing tree stumps and shouting excitedly over berries and chipmunk holes and anything else that catches their fancy. The path splits and we swerve right so we can head through the cool of the forest to the creek.

In the woods, the girls have stopped at a patch of touch-me-nots. Some of the seed pods are fat and ripe, and through semi-translucent skins you can see black seeds inside. The slightest touch will cause the pods to explode and the seeds to fly every which way, eliciting peals of startled laughter from the children. It’s a game, one that results in a handful of tiny seeds to plant in the backyard at home.

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Past signs warning of giant hogweed, the stream splashes between muddy banks. A man is standing in the water. “Over there,” he points. “There’s a big fish. A salmon.” Only the dorsal fin can be seen, and as it cuts the surface, it seems autonomous, slithering back and forth like a speckled snake.

We take off our shoes and socks and wade into the cold water, our feet slipping on algae-covered rocks. I am the first to reach the fish. I forget that last year I lectured the girls at length about the importance of staying out of the water when the salmon are spawning. Heedlessly, I snap a photo then shriek as the salmon lunges towards me with a splash. In a moment, it is past me—upstream and out of sight.

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Out here, in the beauty of creation, I also forget that I’ve been wrestling with hard questions. Sometimes it feels like the closeness of the city closes my heart. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but when I’m outside exploring, the world seems right somehow. All these things—the trees, the thistles, the wildflowers, the salmon—they remind me of just how big God is.

“We need to get back,” my husband says all too soon. I want to stay here forever but he’s right. The way we hike, it will be a while before we get to the car. Sure enough, we stop to watch a green caterpillar munch on a leaf. At the fork in the trail, we spot a wild turkey beside the path. Tiptoeing, the girls and I try unsuccessfully to sneak close. It runs down the path and into the underbrush. We head over to the cows instead, and the girls feed them fistfuls of long grass through the fence.

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When we finally arrive back at the parking lot, I look through the assortment of wild things that have been stuffed inside my camera case: the touch-me-not seeds, three prickly wild cucumbers to dissect later, one round and sticky burr that my daughter wishes to examine under a microscope, and a beautiful striped feather, presumably from a turkey.

These treasures, they make me smile. They are signs of a heart-good day.

Gifts from a big, beautiful God.

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