I took Ashok to one of our favorite local hiking spots this morning. Warren Woods State Park is a lovely little pocket wilderness near Three Oaks MI. The beech and maple forest is one of the quieter parks in the area as it’s not close to the lake and tourists much prefer the beaches over the forest. The unmarked but clearly defined trails meander next to the Galien River. Ashok and I have gone there several times this year as I’ve decided I’d like to have some favorites that I visit year round. The forest changes every time I visit, and I love to see the differences throughout the year.
A month or so ago, literally feet of snow covered the trails, and I wished I had my snowshoes to easier travel. But today all of the snow had turned to water. The river was swollen with yesterday’s rain and the snow melt. The wetlands bordering the river were full of water and even blocked the trail. A couple we met had intended on geocaching but couldn’t get where they needed to go due to the trail blockage. They must not have known that you could circle around and still get to the geocache on another route. We had the trails to ourselves after that and enjoyed a peaceful stroll listening to the birds.
We saw a Great Blue Heron, spooked a pair of Canada Geese, spotted Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red-headed woodpeckers and a variety of ducks. The forest was literally alive with birds. That, along with the green shoots of Iris and ferns peeking up from under the fallen leaves, made it feel like spring is somehow finally in the not-so-distant future. It snowed this weekend, so it’s not here yet, but spring is in my sights. I swear I heard a Kingfisher rattle, but that could have been wishful thinking.
We took a seat on a bluff overlooking the river and an adjoining wetland area that was completely flooded. I thought of an article I read this morning in the NYT about the state of “return to work” after the pandemic. Spoiler Alert: It’s not going well. The problem isn’t remote work or the economy or anything that simple. People are back at work and businesses are looking towards business as usual, but people are not okay. I’ve been saying that as I’ve noticed friends react to things differently than they would have in the past. Tempers are shorter. Energy is down. Anxiety is up. People are literally grieving. Life is more burdensome than it was before…. ya know?…. BEFORE. Last night Saturday Night Live had a skit about how we are not okay. I totally related. It was funny because it is so true.
The river – swelled with too much water for its banks – has a relief valve in its wetlands. Lots of people think swamps are just muddy and icky, but they are the release valve for the excess water that flows down rivers during spring thaws, that slam into land from hurricanes or pour down from the sky too quickly to be absorbed. I thought about all that has happened in the last two years in my life, and I challenged myself to be aware of my relief valves – my very own personal wetlands. And, to be clear, I am not okay either. I’m struggling and on edge like everybody else. But I am functioning. I am laughing. I am moving forward. I will be back to normal one day… whatever the new normal is.
Late last year I got a paper planner. I’ve been okay without one for many years because I keep everything digitally. But I realized that the act of planning is beneficial in itself in making sure I’m focusing on the things I want to focus on, and I was having trouble remembering things. It’s an act of self care to plan every week. I set my own priorities, weed out the things that really don’t matter and then hold myself accountable for following my plan. It has helped me feel more in control of my life.
My unbelievable rock star band of friends has definitely been a delta for me. Someone is always there when I need a hand or a shoulder to cry on. They helped me navigate that awful job search during a pandemic. Being single and at home would have been so isolating if it hadn’t been for the loving hearts opened through zoom calls with my friends.
Nature is my other wetland that literally keeps me sane. Meditation, exercise, yoga and eating well help me stay on my game. And I’ve loved the new apps that provide me support for all of those activities. The Calm App, Find What Feels Good, the Daily Burn and Eat Right Now have been life savers in redirecting the flood of anxiety and fear to a different place than in my body. Technology can suck but it can also provide a LOT of help.
I felt a new appreciation for the wetlands on our hike – even though we had to walk around water a lot. They were helping keep the river from damaging the peaceful landscape around it. I noticed that trees and branches that had decorated the frozen river landscape had been moved downstream sometimes unrecognizably by the fast-moving current. But that’s what rivers do. They create change in their wake. And the wetlands mitigate the damage just by being there.
If you are struggling right now, know you are not alone. What kind of relief valves do you need to pull? It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s actually a sign of strength.