It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a walk, just for myself. The mornings are busy. Making breakfast keeps me in the house. But this morning, this Saturday morning, the house is empty. It’s mine. I’m reminded of the days in highschool when I would come home for lunch or mid afternoon and my parents would be gone. Both of them gone, on an errand or doing surgery on man down the road. I loved being home alone. Not for the opportunity to abuse the freedoms of home alone. Rather, there was something about the way the house stood, the hardwood floors cold and the walls bright with light from the front garden. I would sit in my kitchen at the table, never with the lights on. When school was intense, I would do my homework. In those rare instances where I could take a breath and slow down my spinning head, heavy with responsibilities and problems that can really only be problems when you’re eighteen, I would sit with some scrambled eggs. My dog would sit at my feet. His breathing would grow heavy, and soon enough he’d be snoring. I remember these details as I grab my coat and head out the door, vowing to find myself lost.
Back in the fall when I had more time to myself, I found a path about a half mile from my house on my morning walks. I make my way towards the elementary school. Last season, there was an infestation of a certain pest in our community’s trees and the oaks took the hardest hit. If it wasn’t for this infestation, I wouldn’t have found the faint dirt path lined with white stones. On the outskirts of the school’s property sits a giant oak which seems to produce a disproportionate amount of acorns. They scatter around its base like fairy dust. But the violent infestation halted the production of the oak’s little seeds and this morning, there is a clearing. It was obvious, at least to me, but only because I was looking. People don’t look enough, they don’t open their eyes. I don’t blame them because looking is a skill and not everyone has skills. So instead of taking my normal route up and around the bend, I find myself stepping through the clearing and following the faint dirt path past the sick oak into the unexplored.
The air is dry and I know the children are playing in the distance. Recess time. I can hear their shrieks at my back but my mind is wandering in front of my feet and in an instant I am still. I look down at a work of art. I feel naive. I know there are animals here sharing these woods with myself and children’s laughter and the unwell oak’s acorns. But I feel silly standing here gawking at the artwork of a beaver. Silly for my instantaneous ignorance of who these woods cradle. Silly for making a scene about an evolutionary trait that is as mindlessness and automatic as is filling our lungs with air. Silly for being so stupid. I don’t look away. I crouch down and reach out my fingers, gripping the wooden slab with my palm. It’s heavy. I leave it on the ground. I don’t take my eyes off the masterpiece because now it has changed. I realize it is in the shape of a hourglass. I circle the wood. Slowly, slowly, I circle the wood and I watch it change as I pass 90 degrees, 180, 270 and 360. The beaver managed to turn his darwinism into an exact, precise, representation of his work. Time.
I am eighteen. I do not have a house of my own with a family to feed. I do live near an elementary school but I do not hear the shrieks as children playing because it wasn’t too long ago that I was that child out for recess. I am not the mother I hint I am earlier in this piece. I am a teenager and I am 24 days away from graduating high school. But that woman in the woods is me. That’s me in another world, perhaps another dimension if you believe in cosmos and crazy black holes and the spacetime continuum. And her finding, her detailed, faultless discovery made possible by an ambiguous, perhaps nonexistent, beaver, is in one way or another, representative of my finding now. Because the woman in the woods found a perfect irony. Nature’s instincts used time (and effort and big teeth too) to create, well, time. An hourglass. And while it might not make a lot of sense to say I, a result of nature, am the embodiment of time, it makes perfect sense to claim I am the embodiment of the result of time. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Exeter it’s that nature forces you to have a relationship with time. Some hate their relationships (pulling all nighters for their 333’s) and others love theirs (extra time to spend kissing that special someone), but no matter what, we can’t run from time. Just like the beaver has no control over his teeth and his nagging, pulling instinct to chew that wood to pieces, we humans cannot control our constant weaving of soul and time. That’s nature, and that’s us. So take a walk through the woods by your house. Maybe you’ll find a heart-shaped honeycomb and realize the bees don’t do it for the sweet liquid candy, but rather for the love of the queen.