On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” My hiking companion for the 45th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail”, Deb Lehr, has taken that admonition to heart. As we set off down the trail on a cool but super sunny morning in mid-November, I felt privileged to be hiking with woman who was doing her part to help our community recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. As Meritus Health’s Coordinator of Community Health Education and Outreach, prior to the pandemic, Deb worked part-time teaching classes on diabetes management and doing outreach to adults 55 and up. But as she explained, as we stopped to take photos in the wide-open field under the bluest sky ever, she is now logging twice as many hours as part of the mobile vaccination team. In the first photo of the day, I took a picture of Deb with the sun shining down on her from low on the horizon. To me, the sun seemed to be expressing a ray of gratitude or offering a sort of benediction from on high for all her efforts.
Walking across the rocky trail, Deb was glad she borrowed the extra hiking poles that I keep stowed in the back of my car. She said, “I can tell that the poles are helping me engage my core muscles and I feel more stable going down the inclines.” I knew what she meant. I was a Johnny-come-lately to hiking poles but now I’m a true believer! Using hiking poles also reduces stress on the knees, improves posture and weight distribution, increases power and endurance, and engages the upper body, especially when going uphill. Okay, enough with the proselytizing… but you should really get yourself some hiking poles!
Deb and I were really enjoying our brisk walk on a cool day, which led her to ask what it was like to hike in the heat of summer. As every hiker knows, each season has its perks and drawbacks. In July and August, the average temperature of the hikes with my companions hovered somewhere around 84 degrees, which meant it was cooler sometimes and a lot hotter at others. The gnats were super annoying but the lush summer vegetation and thick canopy above provided shade and much needed relief from the heat. In contrast, on the day of our hike, not one insect bothered us and since the trees had lost a lot of their leaves, the sun filtered through creating a lovely, dappled pattern on the forest floor. Standing by the lichen-covered wall, I noticed that the algae and moss hadn’t changed that much over the course of the year. If it weren’t for the change in seasonal clothing, winter jackets to summer shorts to fleece pullovers, you might not even know when the pictures were taken.
As we hiked, I asked Deb about her family. She’s been married for 20 years to her husband, Dave, who she met online in 1998 when she was in nursing school and he was working as an Electrical Engineer. I laughed saying, “I didn’t even know online dating was a thing back then!” They have one daughter who is a freshman in college at UMBC where she is studying art animation. Deb has quite an artistic streak, as well. I had never heard of a “Cricut Machine” before, but Deb told me all about hers. A Cricut is a digital die-cutting machine that Deb uses to create a plethora of crafts. It cuts paper, vinyl, balsa wood, fabrics, leather, and cork. With it she has made banners, t-shirts, beautiful hand-painted tiles and so much more. I don’t think I have the talent to use a Cricut but I sure wouldn’t mind having one the shirts that Deb makes with it (hint, hint!)
Life is funny sometimes; you wind up having an experience that shifts your interests when you didn’t even know you were looking for something new. When Deb was in graduate school pursing a master’s degree in Nursing Education, she was required to take a course in Community Health. She quickly realized that she really enjoyed connecting with community agencies and interacting with different segments of the population. Though she had been content as a clinical nurse, she fell in love with community health nursing and soon began working for Meritus’ Community Health Department. Deb volunteered, “I not only love my job at Meritus, where the entire organization is focused on improving community health outcomes, I love my colleagues. I work with the two best Cindys in the world, the fabulous Linda Brooks and Beth Fields, the most competent nurse practitioner, ever!” Kind of makes me want to get a job at Meritus!
The powerline field had never been so magnificent! Not a cloud in the sky, the field was bracketed by gold, green, orange, and brown trees on either side. For the first time in a long time, with the vegetation dying back, I could again see the tire tracks created by those who maintain the powerlines. Standing in the field, I pointed out to Deb where not too long ago I had picked wild blackberries. As I said before, “Each season has its perks!”
Heading down the hill toward the stream, Deb and I hypothesized about the purpose of the dry stacked stone walls that can be seen this time of year when the vegetation isn’t as thick. After a quick google search, I learned that these old mortarless stone walls were built as long ago as the early 1800’s and served as boundary markers along property lines and fences to keep animals in (or sometimes out). I told Deb that I wanted a low, dry stacked stone wall along my front drive and joked that it might be more effort than I could muster to carry the needed stones back to my home! We stopped so I could take a picture of Deb striking the “strong woman” pose. As I focused my camera, I again thought of the strength that she and all the other healthcare providers have shown during the pandemic…their strength of character, resolve and resiliency. And I was grateful.
When we made it down to the stream at Warner Hollow, a car pulled up on the private road and a group of people, four women and one man, got out. They jokingly introduced themselves as “Dave and his harem” and said they were members of the Mountain Club of Maryland, which does maintenance on the section of the AT that I’ve been hiking every week for the past year. I’m not sure if they were there because of the recent downed trees that I had reported but I was awfully glad to meet them and even offered to join the cleanup crew! Our new buddy, Dave, even took a picture of the two of us on the plank bridge that the group will repair.
On the way back up the hill, we talked about our favorite TV shows and the best books we’ve read lately. We simultaneously mentioned watching a great nature show on ospreys. Deb is currently enjoying a TV series entitled Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner and my go to series is The Restaurant. It’s set in Stockholm where my oldest son has lived for 12 years so I love hearing the language and recognizing some of the landmarks. It’s all is Swedish, so if you watch it be prepared to read the subtitles! I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, Deb and I do more than read and watch TV. We also cook. My husband and I are experienced cook and spend lots of time perusing New York Time Cooking, Food and Wine and Bon Appetit for the best recipes. Deb and her husband recently signed up for Home Chef, a weekly fresh meal delivery service which has enabled them to experiment with different recipes and explore a variety of ethnic cuisines.
Almost back to the car, and after all that talk about delicious food, we were starving. Standing by the car, Deb pulled out her phone to show me pictures of some of her craft projects and I showed her some pictures of my recent trip to NYC to visit my children and grandchildren. It was a perfect way to end our hike, sharing pictures of what matters to us most. By seeing each other’s photos, I’m sure the stories we shared will linger longer in our memories. Thanks for the memories, Deb!