Whenever Matt and I are walking, we’re on the lookout for critters: bunnies, squirrels, birds, chipmunks, groundhogs, or whatever we are lucky enough to spot. We have a similar way of looking at the world and can often pass several miles talking about the critters we’ve seen or telling stories from their viewpoint. It can get pretty amusing when we start imagining the conversations that the critters might be having about us. This way of seeing the world is something we have in common, and it is fortunate that we both love finding bits of nature to catch our eyes and motivate our walks. If just one of us was stopping to look at little things along the way, I imagine that the other one might become impatient. Instead, we are each able to inspire one another to keep a watchful eye on fields and woods.
A few weeks ago, we were on an 8-mile training walk and we stopped at about Mile 3 to check on a puddle-y pond that Matt has, for years, insisted is filled with frogs. We have repeatedly checked this little pond and he always insists that there are frogs there, but never had we spotted one. That changed for us last Saturday. I’m glad that he is so much more patient than I am when it comes to waiting for the critters. We stopped along the bike path and leaned hopefully onto the fence that overlooks this little puddle of water.
We watched the water for a few minutes and I was ready to give up, repeating - as I have on many occasions - that there are no frogs in this not-really-a-pond. But Matt grabbed my arm just as I was ready to walk away, and he pointed. It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust before I spotted the frog, but sure enough there he was. Within minutes, we were registering a tally and grinning like little kids. We found 8 frogs that afternoon and stayed watching them for about 20 minutes while folks whizzed by on their bikes and roller blades, oblivious to the froggy haven that we had discovered. Eventually we pulled ourselves away and walked the rest of our miles, engaged and renewed by the strength that watching those frogs had invested in us.
Not everyone is motivated by frog-power, but here is where I am going to suggest that maybe you should be. Inspired by the beauty of nature, I am motivated to be my best self. But there was something more happening for me as I watched those frogs do almost nothing as they floated in their puddle. The following Saturday, when we discovered 7 tiny salamanders alongside the path, I felt that same inspiration building in me again. A well of emotion and motivation invigorates me when we spot critters. That day, I decided it was time to think about what the inspiration is that I am finding from these small living things.
Every time that I stop and appreciate a simple critter living its life, I am rejoicing in all of life. That’s why it has become an important aspect of my training walks. Every 3Day event in which I participate – as a walker or as crew – is an opportunity for me to focus on life and living. My commitment to the 3Day is a dedication to the value of life, and to the hope that someday no more lives will be lost to breast cancer.
Collecting an inventory of critters while I train helps remind me of the reasons that I walk in a way that feels very tangible for me. I am watching for frogs to honor the memory of being at the lake with my friend, Mary Kay, who lost her fight with breast cancer almost 8 years ago. I am counting the salamanders for the woman who is lying on her couch counting ceiling tiles while she recovers from this week’s chemo. I am laughing at the antics of the squirrels for the little boy who wishes his mom were there to laugh at the Saturday morning cartoons with him. I am grinning at the chipmunks dancing along the bike path to remember the man who is driving his daughter home from her first dance alone. When I am standing mesmerized by a bird I have never seen before, I honor the bride whose mother isn’t there to see her wedding finery. When I rejoice in seeing the first bunnies of spring, I am celebrating my friend, Diane, a two-time survivor and the spirit that gets all creatures through the winters of their lives.
The suggestion that one should ‘stop and smell the flowers’ is valid and valuable advice. However, I caution you against thinking that is the only way to engage with the natural world. Simply smelling the flowers is not enough. You need to look at them and hold them and think about what the flowers really mean. And so, I offer this new twist on the old adage, “Stop and look for frogs.” Maybe it won’t be frogs that you find for your inspiration. But find something that helps you to be reminded that we are in this for very big reasons, even if you are reminded by something small.