Finding Beauty in Your Own Backyard

We had a house showing in the morning on Sunday.  The showing came after what seems like the longest day of the IMG_6336year in our house – dance recital day.  3 dancing girls + a really enthusiastic dance studio owner = 7 different dance numbers and 11 costumes (and luckily only 8 hair changes).  Dance recital day starts at 7 in the morning with a protein-packed breakfast and the unnatural act of putting makeup on children.  After that it’s down to the performing arts center for a dress rehearsal that lasts from 8:30am – until you finish all your dances.  For us, that meant 2pm.  Then it’s back home to “rest” until we have to re-do all the hair and make-up and be back downtown for the performance at 6:30.  The curtain goes up at 7 and at 10pm we are still taking photos and packing the rolling wardrobes up.  Longest.Day.of.the.Year.  But the kids love it, so we do it.

All that to say that I got the notice Saturday afternoon during “rest” time that someone wanted to see the house at 10am on Sunday morning.  So after coming home late and getting a 5 and 7 year old in bed after 11pm (with much cajoling and tears) we had to rouse them up and get them out the door by 9:30am.  These girls are usually in bed by 8pm, so the 3 hour delay for bedtime was quite a stretch.  We managed to get up and out.  Romeo mowed the lawn and I swept the floors and we put everything neat and tidy before we set off together in the minivan.  We decided on a family hike and we drove down to a place called Spanish Pond.  It was a hike I tried with the girls last week and we didn’t make it too far when everyone was ready to turn around.  So I wanted to try it again.

The hike started out like any other.  We held hands and laughed.  We tried to identify the bird calls.  We tried to keepBroadhead skink, male Chichi from venturing too far ahead and scaring off all the wildlife.  We found some blackberries and ate them.  We spotted lizards and butterflies.  Then we reached the spot beyond that initial venture into the woods from last week – the new part of the hike.  We stopped and helped the kids climb a tree.  We ate snacks and kept going.  We ventured off the red path onto the blue one and down to the family cemetery of the previous land-owner.  We stopped at the ruins of the old Willie Browne cabin and knocked at the door and pretended to visit him.  We followed the blue path down to the black one and saw the salt marsh.  Crabs scuttled near our feet and the ground was littered with shells.  We reached the lookout point and met the spot where the St. John’s river fed the marsh – the midpoint of the journey.  The kids took of their shoes put their feet in the waters.  I had to fight my desire to say, “Don’t get dirty.”

The descent back out of the woods sparked a turning point in my mind.  As we began the loop back, the grade of the hike changed and we started climbing higher and higher among these beautiful shell-crusted hills.  We stopped to spanish pondphotograph an enormous broad-headed skink.  It was the contagious enthusiasm from the kids that made me realize – we’ve become blind to the place we live.  Eventually, you just don’t see it anymore.  You drive down the same streets.  You pass the same stores. I imagine that even in an “exotic” and wonderful new place, you inevitably go blind. Eventually, you start to miss out on everything that place has to offer you.  Just the way we have missed out on everything Jacksonville has to offer us.

And it made me think.  Why isn’t THIS – this eye-opening hike we are doing right now – why isn’t THIS our priority?  Not the hiking, but just being in the moment and exploring all around ourselves.  How have we missed this beautiful backyard hike when we have both lived here most of our lives?  What else are we missing in our own backyards?

And it made me realize my real goals.  My real priorities.  It’s not just about traveling and seeing the world.  It’s really about a philosophy to embrace exploration.  It’s really about the idea that we need to get out from behind our computers and go and see what this world has to offer us.   It’s about looking up at the shells embedded into the hills and realizing that we stood where the water used to be.

It’s about our willingness to take off our shoes and step into the mud – on purpose.

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