The preamble of an encouraging week set the tone for a magical weekend in and around Blowing Rock and Boone. I drove up from Charlotte on Friday after work with the sunroof open, sipping an Americano and enjoyed a stunning sunset for part of my drive. I had two full days of sunshine while in the mountains, although it was windy and nippy, requiring some layering. I missed the foliage being at peak color, but there were still some outliers displaying bright red, orange and yellow leaves.  

As I set out for a hike on Saturday, I was reminded of a game that kids play:  catch a falling leaf as it floats down from a tree before it hits the ground. It is much harder to do than it looks. A few weeks ago, when I was researching the word “wild,” the only reference in Joseph T. Shipley’s Dictionary of Word Origins was the phrase “wild goose chase.” Children in the 16th century played this game, often on horseback, and it is the origin to the contemporary version of “follow the leader.” At the time that piece of information was just that, a fact.

For the whole hike, intermittently, I would do my best to catch a leaf when a gust of wind would blow some out of a tree. There was the added challenge of having to be mindful that I was on a trail, as I did not want to get too lost in my goal, lose my footing and topple down the side of the mountain! I was hiking Rich Mountain that Saturday, which follows old carriage trails on many parts of the hike and therefore the path is usually wide. I would get excited when I’d see several leaves being released, hopeful and chasing after them. But despite my efforts, the rascals either landed ahead of me right as I got to one, floated off to the side and just out of reach or were caught by the plentiful, tall rhododendron that line the path.

On Sunday, I went running at Moses Cone. I started at Bass Lake and followed the carriage trail that leads to the Manor at the top of the park. It was not as windy, and I had forgotten all about the game from the day before until a breeze shook a few leaves onto the gravel in front of my feet. I don’t know if it’s because I was in a great mood or because I feel so at home on these trails, but I had the idea that Nature was playing with me, egging me on to engage and interact with Her. Like an older, loving but wiser sibling, able to have the upper hand, it made me laugh when a leaf eluded me and was caught instead by the fingers made of a branch, or a bright leaf taunted me from above, waving in the breeze as if to say, “Catch me if you can” but then not letting go. It was my version of a “wild goose chase,” and even though I was hiking alone, I felt like I was among dear friends.

As I ran back down the trail to the lake, I had a sense that I was going to catch a leaf.  Sure enough, although almost slipping through my gloved hand at the last second, I had a bright, yellowy-green prize in my palm. It makes me smile to relive the experience again as I write about it now.

As if to punctuate the message, the next morning I was listening to Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s 21-day guided meditation series, Expanding Your Happiness. The original offering was free, and I purchased the package to listen to again. I just happened to be on day five, entitled “Feeling Playful.” According to Deepak, Vedic wisdom teaches that all creation arises from “Lila,” translated to mean cosmic play, and that playfulness can be experienced as a spiritual, joyful act. I am here to attest that this is true.  

May I never grow too old to revel in play, and may I continue to be open to and aware of the gift of connection.