Lesa Knollenberg
freelance writer in
madison, wi

Nature that Nurtures


Photo courtesy of Gus Knollenberg

I have a quiet treasure near my house – a rolling loop of trails that is a goldmine of colors and smells and fresh air. It helps me think straight, helps me mark the seasons and astounds me every time I’m there. I take the dog, he takes his joy, and we try to hike at least every other day. Every single time I’m there, I say out loud: “Who gets to enjoy this kind of paradise? How am I so lucky?”

The dog wears his joy, always. I, however, sometimes have to scrounge around for mine. Sometimes it’s hidden in my back pocket. Sometimes it’s hiding in the craggy spaces of my grouchy mood. Sometimes amongst all the house traffic, cleats, smelly laundry and noise, I don’t exactly know where I placed that damn joy. But usually, after approximately 27 minutes of a walk and a juicy forgotten song from my iPod, I find it again.

On the days I don’t hike, I’ve been trying yoga. One of my favorite ‘woo-woo’ things about yoga is when an instructor tells us to dedicate our day’s practice to something or someone. It feels so virtuous to be working out in somebody else’s honor. So I’ve transferred that practice to my hikes now, as well. Awhile back I was on my treasured trail, and dedicated the hike to my friend Rose. It was her birthday, and in the fifteen years I’ve known her, she usually sends me an annual philosophical email about the brisk January cold or the way the geese fly over the midnight moon. I was looking forward to her birthday entry.

I was thinking about her, rounded a corner, and the late afternoon sun turned a bank of sumac bushes a brilliant orange. The color hovered over the earth like gauze. The row of pine trees behind the sumac made the whole scene look luminous, and I knew it was dramatic just for Rose and her birthday. She is a bright spot for anybody’s day, and so deserving of her very own painting from God.

Recently I dedicated my hike to hoping I didn’t have cancer. I had been struggling with some disturbing ovary issues, and we were waiting for test results. You know those days: you pretend to care about interest rates and low-sodium meals and dangling participles, and all the while you’re wondering if your ovary will burst and why you never buy one of those perfect black dresses, just to be prepared for once in your life.

So I took to the hills. Often I find that when God can’t reach me, he leaves me a message at the trails. Sometimes he’ll remind me of the benefit of peace and quiet, or sometimes it’s a message to remember the music. This particular long day I had that darn happy puppy by my side, and he was darting into the bushes and then hopping out, like his very own surprise party.

I started my hike like I usually do, head down and muttering to myself. Like Woody Allen, only taller. After a while I remembered to look up, and I was surprised at the wildflower colors; yellows, purples, maroons, all in the same five-foot span. Sometime I’m going to decorate an entire living room using the colors from a gorgeous fall day.

I turned a corner, and above me bloomed the most beautiful rainbow I can ever recall. I kid you not; it was uber-vibrant. The lines between each color were distinct and rigid, like God had put a little extra pressure on the whole enterprise without any wavy, wishy-washy interpretations. The order was for one REALLY GOOD rainbow. The minute I saw that perfect gift, I knew I was going to be okay. I could practically hear God’s voice mail: “I need you around. You’re on the right path.” I was filled with instant relief, and felt cared-for. I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be. The tests came back just fine, and the next day I took my ovarian cyst and my happy puppy back to the trail to discover again what was waiting for us there.