Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Little Bit of Gratitude

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

If there’s one thing I can say about the year 2020 that I think will be echoed by pretty much everyone on the planet, it’s been a rough year in so many ways. The coronavirus pandemic turned our world upside down in late winter and it feels like it will never end. And here we are at Thanksgiving time, being advised to stay home and not gather with our families and friends.

The thing that has kept me sane through all of this year’s challenges has been to find a little bit of gratitude each day. It’s really not that hard when you get the hang of it. Some days, it’s as simple as appreciating one tiny bird outside my window. Recently, the Red-breasted Nuthatches have returned from the north and I am so grateful for them. They make me smile every time I see one on the peanut, birdseed, or suet feeders.

And some days, it’s something totally unexpected, like passing someone on my neighborhood walk whom I don’t even really know, but who stops for a minute to say something kind. One afternoon, a neighbor I’d never met thanked me for wearing an orange vest to help drivers see me. And starting this summer, sometimes a runner would pass me who had such a happy spirit. At one encounter in early September, we had exchanged our first names. Yesterday this person approached on the other side and stopped to acknowledge me, even remembering my name and telling me I had a really nice name. For these encounters, I am truly grateful.

And then there is the simple blessing of hearing the little girls next door playing outside, often giggling or even screaming. Hearing children’s voices fills my heart with joy. A couple days before Halloween, their mother told me they were sad about not being able to trick-or-treat in the usual manner. And then she asked me if I would be willing to let them come over and trick-or-treat on my porch. I agreed and set up a surprise for them…my scarecrow, George.

They were enthralled with him and spent a lot of time rearranging him and high-fiving him. The only problem was that he did his job so well that he scared me at least a dozen times over the month that he was sitting on the front porch. I kept forgetting he was out there by my front door. But every time he startled me, I laughed out loud and this filled me with gratitude that something so simple (and silly) could keep away the weight of the challenges we are all facing.

One of the things I have really missed this year has been the ability to spend physical time with my family and friends. Despite this, I am grateful for photos and memories of our past outings and gatherings and all the methods we have at our disposal to stay in touch during the pandemic. I know that, when we can gather again, these meetings will take on more importance and will be given even greater priority as we return to our busy lives. My hope is that we will retain the recognition of the importance of downtime and time spent with those we love. And I look forward to the next day of shunpiking on the backroads of this great state with my friends!

Being so isolated during this almost year-long (so far) pandemic has made it difficult for people to do normal things like look for a new job or establish a new friendship. However, in early September, I was given an amazing gift from the Universe. Over the past 15 years, I have done several volunteer projects for the Aldo Leopold Foundation and have such respect for their land ethic and conservation mission. It’s a great group of people and they have treated me like I truly matter.

In late August, I requested a phone meeting with their development director to discuss planned giving and we quickly slipped into such down-to-earth, easeful conversations. This was something totally unexpected and a true gift, especially during these challenging times. And, as a bonus, I was given permission to photograph on the private Leopold Memorial Reserve. When the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror, I plan to visit the Leopold Center to reconnect in person with the staff there.

Finally, I am more than grateful for the peace and comfort of being able to connect with nature every day. Wisconsin is such a beautiful state in every season of the year. And you don’t have to go far to find a variety of landscapes. What a gift Mother Nature has given us! Even as the days get shorter and most people feel it will be a long, dark, and cold winter, it’s important to get out and absorb some of nature’s healing energy. All you have to do is bundle up. I guarantee it will invigorate you!

Just remember that a little bit of gratitude goes a long way in helping us through the challenges of everyday life as we know it today.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and Happy Shunpiking!

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