Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Call Me Restless

(Margo D. Beller)

(Editor's note: This post was published several years ago, one of many posts where I stupidly removed the link allowing you, Dear Reader, to access it after publication. So I have republished it.) 

When the dark comes early; when the cold wind blows; when the furnace heat dries out everything, including me; when the lines on my face seem deeper; when I feel fat from indulging in too many office snacks; when the house closes in and my husband barricades himself behind a book; when December is in my soul as well as on the calendar, that is when I take myself, if not to sea like the unnamed narrator of Moby-Dick, then to the woods for a long walk.

I have been losing my connection to nature and it makes me feel unnatural. I used to walk all the time at my last job including going to and from the train. I’d hear birds in the morning and look at the stars at night. Not now.

Driving to work has made me slow and fat, my legs rubbery. Winter makes me feel achy and twice my age. I wanted to push myself, to walk and not eat and pretend I had no financial, property or spousal responsibilities.

I went to the Swamp.

The Great Swamp is in the heart of suburbia. Part is a Morris County park. Part is a Somerset County park. The huge part in between is federal territory split between a “wilderness” area and a “management” area.

In spring I take a particular trail into the wilderness area at dawn and find all sorts of migrant songbirds. I also find deep mud, slippery rocks and wild bushes that are cut back once in a very long while. I have to really want to go birding to come here, but it is usually worth it.

This December day I wanted a long, flat, easy road so I hiked in the management area along Pleasant Plains Road, between the Helen Fenske visitor center (named for the woman whose efforts 50+ years ago scuttled a planned airport) and the unpaved area several miles away where the old visitor center once stood.

Many interesting birds have been found along this road, but I wasn’t expecting a lot. Winter is generally a quiet season for birding at the Swamp.

I was there to walk. Yet, almost by accident I found a bluebird in a tree and then a harrier flew low over a mowed, flooded field. Had I been driving I’d likely have missed them.

Several hours later, when I finally turned around and headed back to my car the way I’d come, the walk went from pleasure to an endurance test.

Suddenly the cold wind was in my face. My stomach was rumbling. My leg muscles were twinging and the gravel was making my feet hurt. The thought of my car parked so many miles away made me momentarily panic.

There are times I want to walk and go without food for so long I feel cleansed.

Then there are times I selfishly consider pushing myself so hard I collapse and die on the road.

I felt a little of both on this walk.
(Margo D. Beller)

Luckily, the way back always seems to go faster than the way out. Despite the aches and the wind I was back at the Fenske center a few hours later and then headed home in my warm car.

I was tailgated as I tried to enjoy the ride on the winding Harding Township back roads. On one hill I was forced to pull over several times because behemoths - luxury and otherwise - would come barreling downhill taking a lane and a half, leaving not much room for me.

It was only a more scenic, lower-speed version of my workday commute on Route 80.

I would like to say this winter trip provided an epiphany about the beauty of staying alive, of being glad for what you have, of taking life one day at a time.

That would be a lie. It was more like, you can walk to the ends of the Earth and your problems will still be with you.

Deal with it.

At least I was cheered by MH’s warm smile and the picture he took of a Carolina wren at our suet feeder while I was gone.

For the moment, I am trying not to be Restless.

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