I don’t know that my heart was really in it, this morning, when I left the house for a brisk walk. The clouds were reminiscent of the dream fragments still clinging, like cobwebs, half-forgotten, in my brain. Tornado dreams, again–a direct hit, but with surprisingly little damage. I glanced at the sky, now and then, as I drove to Kickerillo-Misher Nature Preserve, and decided that as long as I wasn’t standing under a tree when lightning struck, I might as well put in the work and walk at least one loop. Maybe two. As I imagined myself drenched, bedraggled, and dodging lightning, it began to sprinkle. Put in the work, an inner voice whispered. Just do it.
I found a second excuse–almost–to ignore that inner voice. Halfway to the park, the road was blocked by a bad accident. Nothing gory, mind you–just the sort of “bad” that’s bound to ruin the weekend for more than a few people. A dead bumper lay across the median; a truck sat sideways in the street, daring me to try to pass. I diverted around one of the tow trucks, turned left, cut through the church parking lot, and snaked around the underpass. I could as easily have done a U-turn and headed home. Driving the winding road to the back parking lot at Kickerillo-Misher, it seemed there were more cars leaving than following me in. But the sky wasn’t dark and ominous, just gray and blustery. Like yesterday, when the squalls hit. The rain might be a welcome relief from the morning heat, which was already in the 80s.
The sound of a gentle rain on the asphalt path was soothing; the quickening patter of droplets on the lake and leaves, coupled with the summer scent of ozone and rainwater, all coaxed me along the path. Normally, I’d crank up a pace-setting playlist on Spotify, but this morning I chose, instead, to soak in the sounds of the preserve. Deep, throaty croaking sounds emanated from the shore, to be answered by other voices on the far side of the path, near the creek.
Dogs trotted along silently. I shudder to think what torture this brisk walk in the heat would be, wearing a fur coat.
Other walkers chatted softly while a girl on a pink and purple bike rode slow circles around us all, never leaving the adults’ sight, doing her best not to look too impatient with their slower pace. Dogs walked their people; one tried to hunt, and I quickened my pace, lest it catch a skunk.
The sun peeked out from behind the clouds. It grew hot, not half a mile into the first loop. Humidity rose off the steamy pavement. It weighed on my skin. I breathed it in and tried not to pass out, standing after stooping to take a photo of some wildflowers.
So much for the cooling rain.
I stopped to talk to an older man who was peering through the trees. We were both trying to figure out what creature was making odd, deep, throaty calls. Bullfrogs? Gators? He thought it was the cranes – but I have my doubts. Turtles, maybe? Definitely not turtles mating…
Someone called my name. Blinking salty sweat out of my eyes, I looked around to see an old friend and former manager, Nga. She was walking–all right, jogging–with her sister, and our chance meeting after four years or so was cause to slow them down to a brisk walk while we caught up on news of our kids. They were ahead of me by a lap, so when we reached the parking lot, we said our good-byes, and I resolved to make it around the lake one more time.
By then, it was miserably hot. I was praying for rain. Wiping sweat out of my eyes with a damp t-shirt sleeve, I turned on Spotify. My thoughts weren’t keeping pace with anything, and my feet were following suit.
Nature was louder. Looking up, I found my favorite landmark–a thicket of sunflowers, stretching tall on their stalks, turning their bright yellow faces towards the sun. Today, a manic swarm of bees zig-zagged, climbed, and dove around the flowers. I forced myself to stand close, taking photos, hoping the bees would be much more interested in the sunflowers than in me and my fragrant sweat. Oddly, I got only one picture of a bee–the others were too fast, too frenzied. Can you spot him?
It did occur to me that a thicket of sunflowers is a terrible landmark, only good for a few summer months, no doubt. I should use, instead, the bridge or the rusty pipeline or the broken road to nowhere. Or even the quarter-mile marker signs thoughtfully provided by the park. But these cheerful sunflowers never fail to put a spring in my step. Walking the park, even in sap-sucking heat and humidity, beats spending an hour in the gym.
Last time I walked at Kickerillo-Misher, I thought I heard an angry swarm of bees. I searched carefully, so as not to disturb a large hive, thinking I’d want to mark its location and give it a wide berth. But I finally spotted the source of the buzzing: a good-sized drone, likely equipped with a camera. I suppose I should’ve waved. I wonder if it will show up on YouTube? I think I may have found it there, but I didn’t find my curious, upturned face staring back. Click here to enjoy the aerial view on YouTube.