On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
Like the lyrics from Frank Sinatra’s song “Let It Snow, Let It Snow Let It Snow,” the weather outside was frightful for 51st hike of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail.” But unlike the song, Erin Harman, my hiking companion, and I didn’t cozy up to a delightful fire because we had places to go! (Can’t you just hear Ol’ Blue Eyes crooning?) We wanted to explore the winter woods, see the frost glittering on the frozen ground and appreciate the way the sun, low in the sky, filters through the trees on an early morning in late December.
At just 24 degrees, we bundled up. Erin put on an extra layer and I placed toasty toes in my hiking boots and hand warmers in my mittens…and then we set off down the trail! Erin is a friend who I see infrequently but when we do get together, we seem to pick up right where we left off. I knew that despite being vaccinated, Erin and her husband had both come down with Covid a few weeks ago. I asked her what it was like and she said, “It was pretty miserable. Thank goodness we were vaccinated! It could have been so much worse.” We both recalled feeling hopeful in June and July that the pandemic was over for good and, now more cautious with the new, more contagious omicron variant causing another surge. As we stopped to take photos in the barren field that had been filled with wildflowers during the summer, I was reminded of the cyclical nature of the seasons. Sometimes, like the seasons, life is bountiful and other times it feels barren. But as poet Anita Krissan reminds us, “Spring will come and so will happiness. Hold on. Life will get warmer.” And the pandemic will end.
Heading into the woods we chatted briefly about our husbands, grateful for men who know us well…and still love us. There’s something special about being in a long-term relationship and still being surprised by and/or surprising your partner. It’s not that we haven’t had our issues but with almost 82 years of marriage between us, Erin and I have learned that holding on to the past doesn’t work. We agreed that giving ourselves and our spouses permission to evolve, grow, and change seems an important key to happiness.
Erin and I stopped in our tracks, struck by the lovely log covered in glitter! Spoiler alert: it wasn’t really glitter. It was frost but honestly it looked like my seven-year-old granddaughter had gone wild with one of her art projects. As we continued down the trail, we saw frost-covered ferns, pine boughs, turkey tail mushrooms and moss…all of them shimmering as the sun’s rays filtered through bare branches to kiss their surfaces. The crystalized ice that glimmered in the crevices of the dry-stacked stone wall gave Erin and I the feeling that we were “strolling along, walking in a winter wonderland!” We took lots of pictures, but they didn’t do the beauty of the day justice. Sometimes you just have to witness nature’s magic for yourself!
Heading down the hill toward the lichen-covered wall, we talked about our children, their careers, and their interests. Given that our children are all close in age, our stories had a lot in common. Erin told me that her daughter Meghan and her husband Brant recently bought a new home in Colorado. “What a coincidence,” I said. “My son and his wife just bought a home in New Jersey.” Then she told me that her son Drew, and her daughter Molly both got married this fall, and within six weeks of each other! “Hey, my daughter is getting married in June!” As Erin described her son’s wedding on a mountain top in Colorado on a beautiful autumn afternoon surrounded by family and friends and her daughter’s more intimate ceremony, I felt excited for my daughter and her fiancé. I reminded myself that there are so many possibilities, choices, and options to celebrate love; that there’s no right way to do it. Whatever Laura and Alex decide to and however they decide to celebrate, I’m all in. I want to be supportive and helpful. I don’t want to give unwanted advice. That’s why I am refraining from saying, “Do you realize that June is only six months away?” I would never say that! I’m hoping they read this blog, instead!
We paused to take photos in the powerline field. The dried, light brown grasses contrasted with the brilliant blue sky above. As we stood taking in the view, we heard a woodpecker tapping out his rhythm on a nearby snag. I also heard what I think was a Red-tailed Hawk’s hoarse, screaming call. I’m no expert on bird calls but my husband is very knowledgeable and, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been hanging out with him for 42 years! Sometimes it’s possible to learn through osmosis!
It was chilly so we picked up our pace but that didn’t stop me from talking. I asked Erin to tell me about her work and what she enjoys doing in her free time. Erin has been with the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown for the past 16 years and is currently the Director of Advancement and Outreach. In this role she is responsible for all marketing initiatives and internal and external communications of the center. She plays an integral part in connecting the University System with the business community as well as promoting new programs and coordinating student services. Wow…that’s a lot of responsibility! But Erin enjoys it. I asked if the pandemic affected her work and she replied, “Yes but in a positive way! I got to work from home and, though I missed my colleagues, I felt very productive and efficient!”
“So, what do you do for fun?” I asked Erin. “In my spare time I enjoy sharing decorating ideas on my Instagram account @erin.evolving and on my ErinEvolving.com,” she replied. “It’s fun, creative and I like showing others that it’s possible to decorate without spending a ton of money.” It turns out that Erin is not only frugal and artistic, but she is also the Queen of DYI! Knowing next to nothing about Instagram, I was fascinated! I’m proud to say that after hiking with Erin, I now have an Instagram account of my own and am following her! It’s amazing what you can learn when you hike with so many different talented women!
When we reached the place where I ask my hiking companions to strike the “Strong Woman” pose, Erin said, “I don’t really like getting my picture taken.” This from a woman who takes and posts beautiful pictures on her Instagram account and has over 1990 followers. Honestly, as Erin struck the pose, I thought, now that I have an Instagram account, I should post pictures of all the smart, amazing, courageous, talented, self-deprecating, funny, creative, wise, powerful, women with whom I’ve been privileged to hike. I bet I would have a bazillion followers in no time! To me, there’s nothing better than highlighting the extraordinary accomplishments of ordinary women!
We didn’t stay long down by the stream at Warner Hollow. With the hills on either side blocking the sun and the water rushing by, it felt even colder. We took just a few quick pictures before heading back up the hill. My favorite photo of the day was of Erin standing on the planks over the stream with a huge sunbeam shining down on her. When I was a kid, if I saw a ray of sun that shone like a spotlight on someone, I would say, “God is smiling on so and so.” I’m not a kid anymore but I think God was smiling on Erin.
On our return hike we talked about our families’ Christmas traditions and memorable childhood Christmas gifts. Erin remembered getting a Chatty Cathy and a Nancy Nurse…aww so lucky! I laughingly told Erin that when I was five years old the only Christmas gift I wanted was a Bonnie Bride Doll, a beautiful doll dressed in white satin that could throw her bouquet with the push of button. As I remember it, every girl in my kindergarten class asked Santa for a Bonnie Bride…she was one hot ticket! That year, my parents had six kids under 8 and my mom was pregnant. (I know you are thinking, “Must be Catholic.” And you’d be right!) Bonnie Bride was way out of my parents’ price range, so I received a Bonnie Bride knockoff. She was lovely but she couldn’t throw her bouquet…DARN! Dear old Bonnie, despite missing her panties and shoes since 1964 when my little sister took her to school for show-and-tell, is in pretty good shape and still resides in my closet!
As our hike approached its end, we talked more about the real gifts of the holiday season: time spent with family, gratitude for friends, joy of watching grandchildren open gifts and the blessings of good health. Christmas week is a wonderful time to walk in the woods with a good friend…another gift for which I’m grateful. I don’t have a Bonnie Bride doll for you, but I am wishing you the gifts of the season and hoping your New Year is filled with love, peace, and joy!