Some of you may have wondered about my COVID-19 status after I shared that my husband contracted the virus. I did succumb to the disease, but I had only mild symptoms. I am deeply grateful for being spared. Even the milder version of this virus is no fun. At the end of my sickness, I dared to do something my mama would have pitched a fit about — I went on a hike.
Youngest Son works in a hospital these days, a very stressful job that often has him in the Emergency Department doing crowd control and screening and such. Having to deal with drug addicts going through the cabinets and drawers of an exam room looking for useful items is no fun. A stabbing-wound patient bleeding all over the floor pales TV drama. On a day off he wanted to clear his head, and when I asked about a hike he brightened up and invited me to join him. (He had the vaccine series and was not afraid to be around me, and we were not near any other people.)
The voice of reason told me not to go, that I would be crazy to get out in the cold air. After being cooped up in the house for days, weeks, I dared risk it. We went up to the Pinnacle, opposite Shortoff Mountain in the Linville Gorge. The trail I slow-hiked was only 0.2 miles, and the change in elevation came via the car ride up old Highway 105 that turns to dirt in the ascent. That 0.2 miles was far enough to see some breathtaking views.
Winter hiking has never been a pastime of mine, but now I am reconsidering. Never have I seen the mountains that color of deep blue. Toward the southwest, snow covered the higher mountains toward Mount Mitchell, making me think of Alaska. All around us the profound stillness and beauty lay mountain after mountain. The cold air did not hurt my lungs and it refreshed my soul. For the rest of my life, I will remember those moments.
Looking at the gnarled trees up on that ridge, I remembered another beautiful moment in a classroom at least 20 years ago. Our sixth-grade classroom had a window overlooking trees at the edge of a yard. The weather was severely cold, with the prospect of snow. A perceptive boy, normally very quiet, sat near the window staring intently at the trees against the darkening sky. He turned to me and said, “Mrs. Neal, it’s like in the wintertime the trees are holding their breath.”
I was stunned by that observation, such a deeply poetic sentiment. I asked him to write it down for me because I never wanted to forget what he said. Somewhere in a file of treasured notes and letters is that scrap of paper with his words in his own handwriting. Beautiful moments need to be remembered.
The other day a feisty bird in our backyard made my list of beautiful moments. A red-tailed hawk often comes to the edge of the yard, scouting out field mice, squirrels and sometimes a smaller bird. I do not begrudge him a meal; he must eat too. As he sat with head cocked toward the ground, a female cardinal swooped down from a branch above him and pecked him on the back. He was unfazed, but I admired that cardinal’s bravery to take on her Goliath. I will remember her.
In our current stressful state with the ongoing pandemic and ongoing political strife, focusing on some beautiful moments is beneficial since a steady diet of negativity is terrible for mental and physical health. Even King Solomon in all his glory recognized the beauty of natural things: “Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish.” (I Kings 4:33)
I hope we all can find some beautiful moments to treasure, maybe something as simple as a tree holding its breath.