By Merisa Sherman
I turned around and looked back behind me. The Green Mountains lay sprawled below, the once-green now beginning to turn myriad colors. Yes, the thin reds are beginning to pop and are doing so in a wide vibrant form. You cannot help but notice them, randomly sprinkled about the mountains below. Last year, the earlier turners were yellow, I believe. This year, red. Next year, who knows?
My girlfriend and I keep walking up the mountain. I’m only on my lunch break, or more accurately, my shift change. You know that wonderful Vermont experience where you have a variable length break from one job to the next. If I get in to the office early enough, I can get a two hour window where I can shove a Clif bar in my mouth while hiking or go for a paddle on one of our many local ponds or ride the motorcycle to a secluded spot on the river and just rest.
It’s a reminder, a mental health check-in, a moment of gratitude in an otherwise “summer of no fun” as we all work extra shifts in this weird new world. Last summer I felt like I had all the time in the world: the restaurant was open less and everyone was patient and understanding. Now, it feels like we are all playing catch-up for the days we missed, and people are more demanding than ever.
Instead of going for a big motorcycle loop together, we ride a friend to her out-of-state job and drop her off. It’s not much, just a stolen moment, but the connection is there and we get to feel the energy of another human being before heading back to work. We smile at each other as we stop at intersections and nod, knowing how important these simple moments are to our sanity.
On another ride, we stop for 20 minutes to just sit on the side of the riverbank and enjoy the sounds of water rippling past. A boy and his grandpa can be heard laughing in the distance as they swim along, splashing about in the late summer water. I’m just lying on a rock in my motorcycle boots, breathing in the cloudless sky and the fresh water around me. It’s all I had the energy to do this day.
But I am so grateful for these small moments, these little reconnections with nature even in the midst of a chaotic day. Social psychologists tell you to practice gratitude every morning, to meditate for five minutes before doing anything, to sit inside on a little round cushion and repeating the mantra, “I am grateful for …” is a best practice. I believe that is because they don’t live in Vermont.
Instead of meditating on gratitude, we have the opportunity to practice it by reconnecting every day with our world. Whether it’s taking the time to weed and maintain our gardens or ripping through the woods on a four-wheeler, dropping a line into a pond in hopes of catching a fish or hiking under the color-changing canopy, each of us has the ability to practice gratitude for the world around us.
Last night, when I came home late from the restaurant, I looked up and noticed all the stars of the early fall sky. It was chilly, I had goosebumps on my legs but I went inside and grabbed my sleeping bag and a yoga mat. And then I just lay there, looking up at the stars and took five minutes to appreciate the world around me, to just watch them twinkling, so far away, with no light pollution anywhere.
They seem so happy, the stars — and so peaceful. A feeling that no matter what happens on Earth, nothing we do could ever bother them. Even with all the fighting amongst humans on Earth, the universe will continue on in its progression like as before. When you look up all you can see is darkness with light poking its way through and I’m reminded of all the stolen moments peeking through this summer of no fun: all the little bright moments that were never overwhelming or encompassing, but perhaps they are enough.
The timer on my phone beeps and we know it is time to turn around. She has a kid to pick up at school and I need to get back to my desk to finish some paperwork before heading off to my next job. Did we make it to the summit? No, we didn’t. But we got to spend a little time on the mountain. We got to spend a little time on the hill.
Thank you, Vermont. Thank you.