In the twenty years I’ve lived on Quisenberry Lane, I’ve walked the same three-mile loop over 5,000 times. I call it The Circle. Up the lane, cross the highway, turn right on Old Boonesboro Road. Climb the hill to the cemetery, trace the interior wall, and loop back home. In every season, in every kind of weather. My walk is a ritual, a holy practice that grounds me.
Occasionally I invite my husband, my daughter, or a friend to accompany me. But, in all honesty, alone is better. My preferred companions are the turkeys, deer, raccoons, foxes, birds, and groundhogs. Late one night, I surprised a momma possum with nine babies clinging to her belly as she moseyed across the lane under a full moon; as a new mother myself, I understood her resignation and exhaustion. One cold January morning, I came face to face with a coyote. He raised his head from snow red with blood from his fresh kill. We locked eyes and I backed up slowly, giving him wide berth. He chuffed in warning but clearly saw me as no threat and returned to his meal. I’ve startled hundreds of snakes, screamed every single time. I’ve watched trees grow large, seen a few toppled by storms or age or man’s cruel hand.
I have walked to process grief, looping endlessly after the 9/11 attacks, Trump’s election, my husband’s dance with depression. I waddled the loop through my pregnancy and ambled zombie-like around the circle at all hours of the night when I had terrible post-partum insomnia. Once, after Hurricane Katrina, I was crying so hard as I trudged through the trash-strewn shoulder of Old Boonesboro Road that several cars stopped to ask me if I was ok. I wasn’t, but it was a bone-deep sadness no ride home would balm.
More often, The Circle is a celebration. It is where I listened to Obama’s inauguration and where I learned that same-sex marriages would be legal in the Unites States. Audibles by Neil Gaiman has entertained and informed me. I’ve danced to countless Showtune soundtracks. Sometimes I just allow Nature’s soundtrack to be the back-up singer to the cadence of my breath.
The Circle has been walked, run, strolled. I know where every pothole is in the asphalt, where every puddle is in the field. Though I could easily traverse it blindfolded, I never shut my eyes. I’ve witnessed the sunrise shift with the seasons, watched my feet walk through the wet, dewy grass, then crunchy orange leaves, then icy, frozen snow, and then new green dotted with dandelions, the circle endlessly reassuring.
That’s what makes it a ritual. Ritual gives rise to comfort, reassurance that, while everything changes, reliability still exists. The halfway point in The Circle is a tall statue of Jesus, hands on his chest and thumbs in his armpits like he’s tugging up his suspenders. No matter the year, my age, the current state of disarray in my monkey mind, the statue is reassuringly there; it beckons me to sit for a spell and take stock. If the weather permits, I might pause to slough my sandals and wiggle my toes in the grass. This moment for mindfulness elevates a simple walk to a holy pilgrimage, a journey of spiritual significance.
For me, The Circle is not about calories burned or muscles developed. It’s about cultivating curiosity and connection. Any activity we do with a high level of presence and awareness reveals new things about ourselves and our world. The Circle is where I meet disappointment and despair and decision, but also creativity and delight (in fact, every single column I have written for this esteemed publication was first conceived on my labyrinthine loop). Walking stabilizes me, galvanizes me through the ups and down of adulting.
Årsgång, or Year Walking, is a Swedish custom where one walks around a cemetery or church at midnight on Winter Solstice. It is said that if the walker is pure of heart, she will enter the spirit world and the future of the upcoming year will be revealed.
Why wait for solstice, when the magic of mindful walking is available to us in every moment? This ritual has survived since Medieval times because the human spirit will never stop longing for connection.
Your own path awaits. What are you waiting for?