What I’ve Learned While Walking with Shadows

When my grandson, Colt, was in second grade, he asked me if I would please give him an Indian name. Because he has bronze colored, curly hair, I called him S’ Wegi A An, which means Red Feathers. But that was back in the old days when he was … well … short. Now he’s sixteen years old and six-four. If I were to give him a new Indian name now, I believe I would call him Long Shadow.

And why am I writing about this now? Because, once summer finally came to the Pacific Northwest this year, I became a connoisseur of shadows. My walking path is the flat driveway in front of our house. I’m Scandinavian and very fair skinned, so I am not a sun seeker. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever in my life had a respectable tan.

Oh no, wait, that’s not true. At some point our family drove from Arizona to South Dakota in April to celebrate our grandparents’ 50th anniversary. In one of the resulting photos, our sun-starved South Dakota cousins look like ghosts compared those of us who hailed from Arizona. Still, these were accidental tans from incidental tanning as opposed to the skin color obtained from lying outside on a beach towel. I tried that a couple of times at Pima Hall when I was going to college, but it didn’t take—the process took way too long and was incredibly boring.

But back to my walking. After months of cool and rainy weather, it suddenly turned hot—for us anyway. Once the sun came out, that’s when I went looking for shade. As I did so, I couldn’t help but remember Huck, the blue-tick hound we had when we were teaching on the reservation. In the summertime he made good use of every smidgeon of shade there was to be found on our hill west of Three Points.

I generally head outside late in the morning with 2000 or so steps under my belt. I try to do the remaining ten in one long stint which generally takes eighty minutes. And because I’m sticking to shade, I usually watch how the shadows change over that amount of time. Shadows that are short and squat to begin with become taller and skinnier as time goes by. The shadows of the trees at the turn-around start out close together and then move farther apart before they come back together again later in the day.

This morning as I was walking, that process made me think about childhood friendships—how often those relationships start out close, spread apart for a time, and then gradually come back together in later years. That’s what I learned on my walk this morning.

We live in an area of Bellevue called Bridle Trails. As the name implies, these are horse acres. However, you aren’t required to have a horse, and we don’t. But the majority of the area is second growth forest. That means we have lots of wildlife. One morning this summer, I saw a big buck go sauntering through the yard next door. We have a black bear who understands time well enough to know which day the garbage will be put out in any given neighborhood. S/he’s has also learned his or her way around the security straps that are supposed to keep our dumpster bear-free. We’ve seen a bobcat walking along our side fence and there’s also a neighborhood raccoon. So we have wildlife here.

My least favorite wildlife visitor is the heron. He’s managed to divest our fish pond of almost all our fish, but those of you who’ve been reading this blog long enough will be happy to know that our two ten year-old and very cagey koi, the Big Guy and Big Orange, are still going strong eleven years later. Colt was five when we put them in the fishpond.

During the last few weeks I’ve felt fall coming on. Leaves are starting to drop from the birch tree although the wisteria is only just now beginning to show a bit of yellow. The hydrangeas the were bright blue this summer have mostly gone purple. There are still a few blue ones but not very many. What truly surprises me, however, is how many green blooms are still showing.

A few years ago, when we went on a cruise around the British Isles we had dinner in a five-star restaurant in London where the centerpiece was made up of long-stemmed green hydrangeas. I couldn’t figure out how they got them to be green like that. Now I know. They picked them in September which was when we went on our cruise.

By the way, when I was writing Blessing of the Lost Girls, I wanted to tell the story of the four brothers who are responsible for the four seasons. In the process I discovered that the Tohono O’odham don’t have a word for Fall. I guess when you live in the Sonoran Desert, it’s pretty much summer until it’s winter, and you don’t really need a name for the short amount of time between the two.

I have a lot of thinking time when I’m outside walking even though I’m also compulsively counting my steps in 500 step increments along the way. This morning I was thinking about the blog. When I’m writing a book, I’m thinking about the next scene.

These days, aside from writing, I’m doing a good deal of caretaking as far as my husband is concerned. Out of necessity I’ve had to learn a lot about cooking, and I’m also in charge of what the dogs are up to, so those eighty minutes of walking a day are what I do for self-care. It’s eighty minutes that belong to me and no one else.

Someone commenting on last week’s blog wondered if maybe I could become her life coach. So that’s what I’m doing today—taking a crack at being a life coach.

I know I’m not the only caretaker out there, and if you’re in that same boat, find something that you do just for you each day. I’m able to walk. For one reason or another, that may be impossible for many of my readers, but do carve out some time each day that is just for you.

Believe me, you’ve earned it.

Don’t ask me how I know.