So that’s why they’re called Pearls.

I went hiking yesterday. No surprises there. I’ve been trying to go once a week, so the odds of going hiking yesterday are pretty high.

One thing I really love about hikes is that they force me to think. I don’t listen to music or podcasts while I’m on the trail, I can’t play games or read a book, and each hike lasts for hours. I’m stuck inside my head while my body carries me through exquisite scenery, and as I walk, I ruminate.

I chew on old scenes, moments of conflict, problems with friends and family. I chew on irritating comments, people who don’t leash their dogs, and like an oyster with a grain of sand, I wrap each irritating idea in layers and layers of thoughts.

Once, while walking down the sidewalk in front of an old office space, I saw a woman walk away from where her little dog had relieved itself. I made eye contact and asked if she wasn’t going to pick that up. “SHE PEED!” Came the indignant reply.

I can still see in my mind’s eye the woman’s curly blonde hair, her tone, and the coolness of the day under the trees. I remember the little dog’s fur that matched her owner’s hair, and the slender lead with which she tugged it away. I wonder: should I have looked harder before calling her out? Should I have apologized? Should I have saved my own indignance for someone with a bigger dog? A worse infraction? This is only one unhappy social misstep that I chew on as I walk, despite it’s insignificance, and the fact that it happened nine years ago.

So when I found myself, yesterday, turning an idea over and over in my head, looking at it from different angles, refining and imaging the scenario, I was pleasantly surprised to realize it was an idea for a photo shoot.

You see, for the past several years, between pandemic, politics, family drama, and a variety of demanding interpersonal conflicts, much of what I had been ruminating on was an upsetting past. I spent hours and hours and hours of time carefully crafting replies to questions and accusations levied months ago, outlining elegant arguments that will never be heard. As the pearl grows, memories surface, new arguments are drawn up, and another layer goes over the sand, protecting me from it’s scratch.

I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to realize that I had spent an hour, fully inside my head, thinking about creating. Dwelling on beauty and how to frame it, capture it, share it with people who will see it and want to steal sweet moments with me. Thinking not of what I could have done back then to prevent or ameliorate pain, but of what I will do in the future to create beauty, pleasure, and joy.

It doesn’t hurt that at the peak, as I rested in the sun and took in an expansive view, five bald eagles slipped smoothly out of the sky to circle the clearing. Three adults and two juveniles took turns perching on high, bare branches, riding the thermals to scout for prey, and playing together. They would slowly swoop down, chattering and chirping at each other, and make mock dives at slow speeds just to see which would give way. The breeze kept me from lingering, even the high early afternoon sun wasn’t quite enough buffer, or I’d have stayed longer, reveling in their reveling, taking my own pleasure from watching them play.

I have read that an interaction with a bird can improve your mood for something like 20 minutes afterward. Maybe it was the eagles, maybe it was the sugar rush from my granola bar, maybe it was the relief of going back down after getting overexerted on the way up, I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I had just spent a fabulous night with a delightful new suitor, maybe it was the pleasure of a warm but not hot day with no one else to share the trail, but I had one of those rare moments where I was just happy. Not excited, not simply content, but gently, peacefully happy. It felt good to be where I was, when I was, feeling the way I was.

I’m still marveling at it 24 hours later, in case that wasn’t obvious. Taking still more pleasure in the act of examining the memory. Feeling echos of it reverberate through me. As I look out my window at a stunning sunny day and make plans for more hikes, more activities, more opportunities for simple happiness, I can see where the echos ripple into the future. I can see where new experiences will complement the old, magnifying them.

I feel so incredibly blessed. To have the time and flexibility to take myself away for hours and hours at a time in the middle of the week. To find a trail, lonely and peaceful, and the ability to make use of it. To have the freedom, education, and inspiration to write about it. To have an audience, however small, to share with and to hear how impactful it has been. Blessed to find these pearls of wisdom, of happiness, come from unexpected places. The world isn’t such a bad place sometimes.

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