Feeling adventurous and eager to play with our new toy – the Canon 70D we recently fell prey to in a weak mood of self-indulgence – Bill and I hopped in the car and drove to the High Trestle Trail last night around 8:00, our spirits buoyed by the gorgeous fall weather, clear skies and that wonderful stillness that often takes hold once the sun goes down.

Driving Kramer-style with a tank of gas teetering toward empty, we arrived in Madrid to gas up before heading to the trailhead with a few miles to spare before our tank went belly-up. Full throttle now, we continued on our way. There was no moon to guide us and the gravel road leading out of Madrid was lit only by our headlights with occasional flashes of illumination cast off from farm houses along the road. After two false leads (we had to turn around a couple of times and backtrack) we found the parking area for the trail. We’d only been here once before during the day; funny, isn’t it, how things look so much different at night.

As we pulled into the gravel parking lot, another vehicle was just leaving. While we were prepping ourselves with the camera, tripod and bug spray, we no longer had the place to ourselves as a new car pulled in to the darkened lot. Late at night, no streetlights or moon overhead, I’ll admit once we stepped onto the trail that leads to the bridge it felt both exhilarating and a little spooky. The trail to the bridge opened up in front of us, a converging path toward a dimly lit target in the distance. The leafless trees provided dramatic silhouettes against the dark, starry sky. It was breathtaking!

A friend had cautioned us to wear some kind of reflective gear or to carry a flashlight as it is difficult for the many bicyclists and pedestrians who use the trail to see others on the trail ahead. I soon learned the truth of her warning when seemingly out of nowhere we were able to discern two adult figures walking toward us. It wasn’t until they were literally right in front of me that I noticed they were each pushing strollers with two small children in tow. They issued a friendly greeting and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. This was great fun and I loved being out there but when you’re on a lonely stretch surrounded only by trees and sky late at night during the week and no one knows you’re out there – well, let’s just say it was easy for my imagination to get the better of me at times. Still, we pressed on knowing there were folks just ahead of us as well from that second car parked next to ours.

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Each end of the half-mile bridge is marked by two structures which are beautifully lit at night. These towers, artistically appointed, are 42 feet tall. According to the High Trestle Trail website, the dark bands represent geologic coal veins found in the area limestone deposits. As we approached the towers, I was reminded of our first visit here two years ago. The 13-story bridge, located between Madrid and Woodward over the Des Moines River, offers stunning views and is punctuated along the half-mile span with six overlooks. The bridge design includes 41 steel ‘frames’ covering the trail and extending the length of the bridge. At night, in the center of the bridge, these frames are illuminated by thin, cool, blue rods of light resulting in a dramatic burst of geometry.

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For a mid-October weeknight (precariously close to our normal bedtime), the trail was surprisingly busy. Some, like us, were outfitted with camera and tripod to snap a few photos while others, including a couple of groups with small children and babies, were apparently just out for the fresh air, starry skies and unique location. Bill and I experimented with aperture settings, ISO settings, shutter speeds and generally just played around with some of the many features on our new camera. Some photos were fairly successful.

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Others, not so much. (See the ‘ghost’?)

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After an hour and a half of walking the bridge and experimenting with our camera, we headed back to the car. By this time, the others had left and we were alone on the trail. After we’d walked some distance from the bridge towers, we noticed a strong beam of light behind us. Turning around to look, my first thought was someone was driving a car on the trail which is designated for non-motorized travel only. On closer inspection, we realized it was a pair of bicycles with very bright lights. Again, the riders called out a cheery greeting (perhaps regular users of trails, especially at night, recognize all too well the adrenaline rush of those they are about to pass, in a place where thoughts of vulnerability are utmost in one’s mind when an unknown entity approaches amidst all that isolated darkness!) Their gesture was greatly appreciated whether or not their intent was to tamp down fear. In any case, mission accomplished.

We continued on (with both of us reveling in the intensity of their bicycle light beams even as the distance between us increased over time) until at last we reached the intersecting gravel road that led to the parking lot. Another moment of apprehension as a car drove toward us and then turned around. Its passengers, however, had simply made the same mistake we’d made earlier and overshot the entrance to the parking lot. Ten o’clock on a Thursday evening and here were two more daring souls seeking the peace and solitude of hiking this popular trail built on a former railroad bed on a beautiful October evening under a clear sky bursting with stars and wispy streaks of clouds while being serenaded by the sound of chirping crickets and a gentle breeze.

On the way home it occurred to me that while our recent trip to Colorado and the magnificent Rocky Mountains was incredibly inspiring, beautiful and fulfilling, so too was this little outing that I had just enjoyed with my husband, my partner by my side.

Most everyone says you look better with a smile. And for the most part I think that’s true.

Except when it isn’t.

I dated someone once – a tumultuous two year affair that ended badly – who, at the time, I found very physically attractive. So long as he kept his mouth shut. And never laughed. Or smiled.

At one time I thought he would make a great male model. He was tall and lean with a sculptured, muscular swimmer’s physique. Chiseled cheekbones and eyes that twinkled whenever he looked at me. Nice hair.

But if he smiled…

Remember that scene in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when Santa first lays eyes on that shiny nose? The big guy’s hands fly up to his face and he sort of staggers backward? Well, that’s the kind of reaction I’d have when this guy smiled.

He just looked kind of, well, goofy. Go all serious again and I’d melt. Laugh, grin or smile and I had second (and third and fourth) thoughts. I know this makes me sound shallow and superficial but that’s what I remember thinking during our time together. His smiling face was definitely NOT an attractive face. Off-putting in a huge way. It’s just that he was so much better looking when he had that somber (dare I say, smoldering) look about him.

So, things did not turn out well for our relationship – we just weren’t a good match whatsoever for a number of reasons – and subsequently we both moved on. He married, I married and over time the bad vibes between us, well, they just didn’t matter anymore. At least, not for me. I ran into him at a wedding a few years back and we had a pleasant enough conversation but standing there chatting with him, for the life of me I have no idea how I ever got past that dopey smile of his in the first place.

 

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The Julia Roberts film, Sleeping with the Enemy (in theatres in the early 90s, coinciding with the early courtship days for my husband and me) is about a wife who plots to escape an abusive marriage. An early scene in the film depicts soup cans in the couple’s kitchen which are shown lined up perfectly in the cupboard, the labels all turned just so. Another scene has Julia’s character hurriedly straightening bath towels that are ever so slightly out of alignment, the implication being that this will anger her husband who insists on things being neat and orderly. The movie, predictably enough, concludes with Julia being able to get away from her brutal husband and, we assume, living happily ever after with the new man in her life who saves her from a homicidal attack by her husband shortly before the credits begin to roll.

The point of all this – somber and important social commentary aside – is that my husband, while certainly not brutal or abusive, was a bit of a stickler for things being tidy and organized and otherwise ship-shape when we first met. In perfect opposition to his fastidiousness, I was a bit of a slob. In my defense, I think the word ‘slob’ is an overstatement although I will admit that you would be more likely to see dishes stacked up next to the sink and beds unmade at my place than at his. I prefer to describe my domestic outlook while we were dating as ‘relaxed’ and ‘laid back’.

Anytime Bill displayed his penchant for order and structure, evidenced by an oh-so-neat arrangement of tools or household cleaning supplies or personal hygiene paraphernalia, Wesley and I would snort and giggle and one (or both) of us would exclaim ‘Sleeping with the enemy!’ It was always done in good fun and Bill would laugh along with us.

Fast forward to our present day marriage…

It’s funny how our roles have reversed over time or, rather, evened out. Perhaps we’ve both just been a good influence on each other. I am now known more for keeping a tidy (or in any case – tidier) house and am sometimes chided by some in my family for it. Once, while hosting a holiday dinner, my mother was standing next to the stove when I noticed a kitchen towel hanging on the door was out of kilter. When I reached over to straighten it, Mom said ‘Julie, you’re scaring me.’

In the meantime, Bill has become more lackadaisical about things such as directly carrying recyclables out to the garage (99% of the time that’s exactly what I do while he prefers to just lay them on the counter by the door that leads to the garage). Another example is a continuing nag of mine about his habit of leaving dirty socks laying on end tables or on the floor in the living room.

Over the years, thanks to my husband’s example, I’ve become a better (read: not perfect!) housekeeper. I crave structure and order and dislike clutter. And apparently I’ve succeeded in getting Bill to focus more on what’s important and timely instead of hard and fast rules about a place for everything and everything in its place. Shrug. In any case, it seems to work for us.

Oh, but I do still enjoy sleeping with the enemy!

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Yes, I’ll shout it from the mountain tops! I love my husband more than I can say. He’s sweet, funny, sexy and wonderful. And my very, very bestest friend!

Quitting my job to go to school at the age of 34 paid off in more ways that one since not only did it put me on a healthier career path but it provided the setting and timing for the two of us to meet and fall in love. Hooray!

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Fall is a gorgeous time of year, no doubt about it, and October is a fantastic month to commune with nature doing activities such as biking, hayrides, sitting around a campfire, hiking, camping and snapping photos of all those wonderful fall colors. This past weekend I enjoyed an entirely different type of event in the great outdoors: an October wedding.

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My beautiful niece and her new husband exchanged their vows on a spread of land they hope to build on in a few years that they’ve christened Up South. Situated along a gravel road in Madison County (yes, that Madison County – of covered bridge fame), guests pulled into what appeared to be a hayfield where large, round bales of hay displayed hand-lettered signs that assured family and friends they had, indeed, come to the right place.

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The hayfield parking lot gave way to an open clearing where ‘pews’ of hay bales had been set up for the guests. The ‘altar’ was a wooden archway with a grove of mature trees serving as the backdrop. In lieu of a unity candle, the couple branded their initials and the wedding date onto a tree trunk. The groomsmen wore simple brown suits and the bridesmaids wore gauzy shifts, denim jackets and cowboy boots. Everything about the ceremony and wedding party smacked of simplicity and as a result was elegant and lovely to behold.

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Even guest attire was casual as everyone was instructed to wear jeans (if they so wished) especially given that it was an outdoor affair and temperatures (and that wind!) were a little on the brisk side. Several people carried blankets and quilts from their cars and that added to the cozy factor.

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Brad and Becky had an amazing wedding and I think they definitely got it right. Not only did they (hugely!) save on the costs associated with elaborate flowers and programs but their wedding hit all the right notes in that the emphasis was on the love they share and the future they look forward to together – just as it should be.

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On our lunch break yesterday, as we often do, my husband and I cozied into chairs at Barnes & Noble and with hot beverages in hand, each of us picked a book or two from the shelves to peruse until it was time to head back to the office. While Bill’s interest tended toward learning the intricacies of the new Canon 70D we recently gifted to ourselves, I decided on something a little more domestic.

Because we are (still) committed to finishing our basement, I scanned the shelves in the Home section for inspiration. While there was plenty to choose from – books devoted to the design process, remodeling how-to’s (more Bill’s bailiwick than mine), decorating and feng shui – I was instead drawn to a beautifully illustrated volume entitled Back to the Cabin by Dale Mulfinger. Filled with stunning photographs and stirring prose descriptive of a wide variety of woodland and lakeside retreats, this beautiful book immediately (but gently) pushed me into daydream mode – and I went willingly along for the ride.

Secluded getaways, far removed from the daily grind and go, go, GO mentality that drains us of our souls, these cabin structures and their environs, offered the reader (me!) images of an enticing shelter – a cocoon to envelop and warm and hug us into complacency. Imagine yourself, on a bright and sunny morning, stepping out the front door of your calming fortress (whatever its form) and taking in a lake, stream or mountain view (or even perhaps something not quite so dramatic but no less soothing such as rolling fields of corn or wheat) and experiencing the satisfying reality that such is your existence, with only the weather and your own whims and preferences to dictate how you wish to spend your time each day.

How is it that life as we know it, life as we pursue it, does not take this essential need for beauty and calm and peace (serenity now!) into account? Why must we be constantly bombarded with the bump and grind, the rush and mania of our everyday dealings, a lifestyle much more accelerated and fast-paced than when I was growing up or even just twenty or thirty years ago? Much of it what we are subjected to today we do to ourselves: Facebook, Twitter, 24×7 cable TV and all manner of social media. This is our hurry up, gotta have it, gotta do this, gotta do that, gotta know what’s going on and gotta have it NOW culture.

It’s hard to imagine just chucking it all and spending the rest of our lives in a small cabin in the woods (or is it?) because for one thing, we need to work, we need money to live on, to buy clothes and food and medical care and to plan for retirement. I did mention that I was daydreaming, though, did I not? A Walden Pond type of existence certainly beckons though at times, to get away from it all, to simplify and live our lives examining joy and beauty and nature, relishing quiet and solitude, having time to really just think and enjoy the stillness and wonder of not constantly moving.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

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Just like the aftermath of a New York City ticker parade, these locust leaves provide a vibrant ground cover beneath the arc of this sweeping handrail. I reckon this is as good a metaphor as any to celebrate this, my 100th post on A Sawyer’s Daughter.

Thanks to all who’ve stood on the curb cheering me on!

Temperature: 36 degrees. The wind, a brisk northwesterly blow at 16 mph. It’s 6:00 AM and I’ve been awake since about three. Fortunately, I had set out my sweats, underwear, socks and shoes the night before so I wouldn’t wake my husband if I decided to step out for an early morning walk. Fully dressed, I don a light-weight jacket, cap, scarf, gloves and adjust my favorite rhinestone-studded bling earmuffs so they fit snug against my ears.

The pre-dawn sky is a deep, almost turquoise blue which I find odd for this time of day, this time of year. A few stars and the always fascinating moon, half-full peering through the darkness helps to light my way as I begin my morning prowl. I don’t get too far before I first hear and then see a trio of the younger gals from down the street out for their run. The air bites, only just a little, and it feels refreshing. Still though it’s cold so I quicken my pace. Seems I have two modes when I walk: plodding and striding. Today, I’m definitely striding and it feels good.

I’m around the ‘loop’ and more into the open now and the wind, it’s strong. A tiny voice whines: Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But I push it aside and think how satisfying it will feel to persevere and DO this thing. I love walking in the early morning like this although I don’t do it as often as I’d like. The quiet, the solitude, the stillness. Knowing that once I’m done I’ve gotten my exercise out of the way for the day. It’s a great time to just think or better yet, just to BE. No computers, no phones, no To Do list to check off. Just me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love for Bill to join me (and every so often he will) but alone time, ME time – well, I think everyone needs and is entitled to that.

The fresh air clears my head. The cold makes a body feel so alive! You have no choice but to react to the elements, accelerating forward in order to keep warm and moving one step closer to your destination. Kind of like life, eh?

I think it’s going to be a good day.