A curious thing happened the other day. Where I live, we have many beautiful wooded parks and wild areas. The Gans Creek Wild Area is 320 acres and has lots of different trails and trailheads to explore. I love going there. In the fall there are yellow maples galore, and a couple of groves of them that are just magical. I have two favorite loops that I have followed many times, starting at Shooting Star trailhead.
The other day I went out with a couple of friends, one of whom loves starting from the Wagon Wheel trailhead. I had never been able to find a loop from there, and usually after having walked through the Yellow Forest to the creek I’ve turned back. Well. She was going to lead the two of us on a nice 3+ mile loop from there.
It was a beautiful brisk but sunny fall day. We took provisions, with the plan of picnicking on a particular bluff. Everything past the creek looked new and lovely to me although at the bluff I did notice that a blue ball cedar was perched on the right, just as on the bluff I had visited a few days before. I wondered if there might be blue ball cedars at all of the bluffs at Gans Creek?
We had a lovely pause there and then went on. I was telling about routes I often take and about this other bluff. My friend said she didn’t know of that one. Then she pointed to a right fork in the trail and said, “The Boy Scout camp is that way.” “It is??” I asked, perplexed. How could it be? As we walked, I thought this area looked similar to the loop I usually took. And then suddenly, we went around a bend and I knew exactly where we were! We were on my loop from Shooting Star! How could that be? We started on the complete other side of Gans and suddenly we were in the middle of the loop I knew so well.
Shaking my head.
The next morning I was writing in bed, as I always do. Suddenly I realized that bluff we’d sat on was one and the same as the “other” bluff that I’d been talking about. I just suddenly knew it. And I saw how the Boy Scout camp would have been “that way” and how I was suddenly in familiar territory. I had the sensation of a perfectly smooth piece falling right into its precisely carved place in my brain. It felt amazing. Even exhilarating. I knew exactly where we had been and I felt, too, that the whole of Gans Creek Wild Area was now known to me. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love, we had become the mayors of Gans Creek’s ass. Wow.
I immediately took Miles in the car to look again at the bluff I hadn’t recognized the day before, to show my brain that it was indeed the very same bluff–a beautiful spot I have known for years and had just taken photos of a few days earlier.
Why didn’t I realize it? We had approached from the other direction, from a trail I have never taken, after walking through unfamiliar territory. I expected that everything I saw on this “new” loop would be new to me. I did not expect to land in a place I had known so well. And so I did not even see it.
This taught me something about expectations, attention, and perspective. When you expect a new, fresh experience, that’s what you’ll get, even to the point of not recognizing something you love right in front of you. Expectations can diminish your experience. Attention depends upon what you expect, as well. I was definitely paying attention to the landscape, the trees, plants, rocks, and my friends. But I was on an expedition in new territory, following a leader. When you approach a thing or a place from a new direction or someone else’s point of view, you might see it very differently. I have revisited that spot in my mind from both directions several times since then, recalling how I felt both times. Maybe it’s just me, but I still find this fascinating.
I feel like I can now apply this huge discovery to my whole life. Whoa. Expectations, attention, and perspective. I am the mayor of my life’s ass.
Then again, I could have early dementia . . .
“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” ― G.K. Chesterton
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Thanks for listening,
P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”