The sun arrived in the middle of Christmas morning, streaming through the windows in beams that cut across the ripped and crumpled wrapping paper on the floor. It's been such a grey December, even fleeting rays among the remnants of a Christmas Eve rainstorm brought cheers. Winter is only a few days old, but we're already weary of its heavy pall.
As the afternoon unfolded and the thermometer rose, a desire to breathe fresh air fought through a head cold that was threatening to pull my entire body into malaise. I was alone on Christmas afternoon for the first time in my life. This has been a year of great transition, this last month the hardest, as I navigate the emotions that surround holidays in our newly-defined family.
It would have been easy to plant myself on the couch, covered to my eyelids in fleece blankets, shut out the world, and try to ignore the fact that I was alone on Christmas.
But the sun called me to get outside. The blue sky called me to grab my camera. The fresh, brisk air consumed my pity as I opened the door.
Soon I was along the banks of McCullough Creek, whose surface reflected the trees and sky from every angle. A light breeze puffed ripples across the water, momentarily blurring the detail. As I stood waiting to capture each image, I thought of the moments in life when we are disturbed by life's breezes and storms, unable to reflect clearly among the tumult. Clarity takes patience, focus and -- often -- the right conditions.
I was so taken with the sound and images of the water during the first stretch of my hike that I failed to notice that the woods along the creek and prairie's edge were ripe with intimate beauty. While the stream deserved my attention, I nearly missed the opportunity to look down, up and behind me to capture the details of the day.
Once I opened my eyes to more than the stream, the world came alive. A slight flash of white to my left turned out to be a hawk roosted a few feet off the ground. It most certainly saw me before I saw it, but hesitated just long enough for me to get a single shot before turning into a blur escaping through the woods.
As the hawk left my view, I remembered the deer that live along McCullough Creek. I walked along the edge of the prairie until I found and are of matted turkey foot and bluestem, a sure sign that deer recently spent the night.
I followed a muddy mess of hoof prints away from the "bedroom" and soon found a small herd of five white-tailed deer. Like the hawk, they were well aware of me before my eyes deciphered their camouflaged shapes through the brush. We gave each other space, but they soon tired of my encroachment. I saw nothing but the flick of their white tails as they disappeared into the prairie in an effortless exit.
I returned to my apartment, refreshed, renewed and reminded that the most valuable reflection reveals itself when we look away from ourselves for a while.