Photo by Deborah Gardner Walker

Welcome back to the Brave Healer Blog Party! If you’re interested in reading the introductory post, you can do that HERE.

And now I’m happy to introduce this next powerful blog by Deborah Gardner Walker!

I recently started taking a meditation class to quiet my mind, reduce stress and find balance in my life. I have been learning various forms of Hindu and Buddhist meditation, including a walking meditation. My instructor Colin told the class that when thoughts come, to release them by saying, “Thinking, thinking, thinking.” As I crept slowly and purposefully across the yoga studio, I found myself silently repeating “Thinking, thinking, thinking” about 75 percent of the time. Clearly, I need more practice!

My job is fast paced and detail oriented, and it requires thinking analytically and strategically. I am often having conversations in my head, thinking about the best way to word things. This is a PR person’s dilemma, born from carefully crafting communications; it certainly is not the imaginary conversations I made up for my dolls when I was a young girl.

Moving my body and getting out into nature, breathing deeply, taking time to enjoy my surroundings and employ all of my senses is one of the most powerful ways that I quiet and free my mind of constant chatter. In the silence, I feel tension drain away and my heart begins to bloom like a lotus flower. Below is a description of just such a time, and the joy I felt, after walking on a beach near my home on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

Set free on the beach

I have been power walking on Crane Beach since the height of greenhead season in July.  Now it’s October; the greenheads are long gone and the dog walkers and horseback riders have returned.  It’s an awesome sight, albeit one not appreciated by sea birds whose lazy afternoon naps are interrupted by the sudden rush of furry feet in full chase.

I’ve discovered that fall’s the best time for the beach.  The crowds are gone and there’s plenty of parking.  When I get there early, I have the beach almost to myself.  September was clear and sun-drenched – not too hot and perfect for burning off the extra pounds I gained last winter.

I’ve amassed hours of walking the beach and climbing the hilly paths through the dunes, trail map in hand. I’ve enjoyed a visual, sensory, auditory feast as I’ve been silent and attentive to my surroundings — free of nerve-jangling ring-tones, car alarms and conversations I care not to hear. I’ve found a rare solitude in that ecologically diverse, open landscape that has been renewing.

I am keenly aware that the days are growing shorter as we make our way inevitably to the darkest day of the year. The evenings are cooler, the mornings crisp; my furnace will kick on any day now. I soak up the power of the sun during these light-filled days and store away energy for winter as a squirrel stores acorns.

I come to the beach unburdened by my heavy beach bag and chair, and it is so freeing. I carry a light backpack with water, hat, cereal bar, camera and keys (the cell phone stays in the car). I leave my sandals at the bottom of the stairs and am always happy to find them waiting for me hours later, right where I left them in the sand. It is reassuring to know that no one will steal my shoes!

I don my running sneakers to traverse the trails through the dunes, woods, marsh and shrub thicket. My feet need support to power me up those sandy hills!

I’ve watched the foliage change into a riot of color while hiking the dunes this month. I’ve encountered only one other traveler, a solitary man who walks the beach spring through fall. He is a curious apparition as he comes unexpectedly into view, with long golden hair, full beard and amazing tan. He walks sans shirt, stooped slightly forward, carrying a walking stick. He looks like something out of Haight-Ashbury, circa 1968, King Lear or Jesus on the beach. We respect each other’s space, nod “hello” and move on.

My legs and spirit have gotten stronger from ascending the heights of the dunes.  When I pause to catch my breath at the top, I am treated to a spectacular 360-degree view: the Atlantic to the east, Great House on the hill to the north, Wingaersheek Beach to the south and Hog Island to the west. Then, knowing no human is around to see me, I run to the bottom at break-neck speed.

Last week, on my way to the “back side” along the Castle Neck River, I chanced upon hundreds of monarch butterflies feasting on goldenrod, filling up for their long winter migration. Next, I happened upon huge patches of sea heather before emerging onto the beach, where I was greeted by countless Cormorants fishing in the glistening water.

Returning around the tip of the peninsula, I waved to kayakers in the Essex Bay, and began my 2.7-mile trek back to the parking lot, leaving my footprints in the sand. I am fascinated by all the other tracks that tell who, and what, had passed before me: human feet walking in straight lines; circuitous routes of webbed feet seeking food; treads from the Trustees of Reservations’ vehicles; and — now that it’s October — dog paw prints and horse’s hooves.  

Along the way, I stopped to pick up a few treasures for the growing collection on my windowsill – razor clams, sand dollars, snail shells, rocks, and driftwood. As I continued, I saw a few other walkers, both singly and in pairs. We smiled, waved and called out to each other, “Gorgeous day isn’t it?”  

We have a common bond. We know that the best time at the beach begins after Labor Day and that each good day we get is a gift.

Deborah Gardner Walker is a freelance writer and photographer who likes walking and hiking in nature all times of the year. She lives two blocks from the beach in the historic city of Beverly, Massachusetts with her husband Bruce and their three rescue dogs. Deborah has had a successful career as a fundraising and communications specialist, including as press secretary to elected officials in New York City. In addition to her freelance work as a community journalist and first-person columns, Deborah writes grants to support programs that serve students with special needs. You can find Deborah on Instagram and Twitter @dgwrites or email her at dgwrites55@gmail.com.

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