Piece of Peace

Piece of Peace

Eric Van Fossen


It took me exactly 5 years and 10 months of living in this town to finally find peace. No, there was no trouble with neighbors. I actually have good neighbors. There was really no turmoil at work or in my nightly visits to the gym. I had no crazy people spreading angst throughout my life.

But yet there was no peace.

The nightly exercise helped keep me settled and as I like to say, “Kept me off the streets at night.” But settled isn’t peace. A calm life with no disruptions is not peace. I was searching for more. There was something inside that was just out of reach. In hindsight, I needed to stretch just a bit to reach it. A stretch similar to trying to get that box of Cheez-it® crackers off the top shelf of the pantry. Yeah, important like that.

My annual birthday goal of being able to run my age in minutes was rapidly approaching. To be fair, these days it is more of a waddling jog than it is a run, but you get the idea. So, for example, if on my upcoming birthday I was to turn, say thirty-nine years old, then I should be able to jog for 39 minutes. I almost chose twenty-nine years as my example, but figured nobody at all would buy that number.  So it was time to start running in order to work up to that magic number. I used to love running some 20 years ago. I pretty much hate it these days. See “waddling jog” above.

I started on short jaunts down the bike path.  It was a pretty setting with woods and a river. These jogs slowly got a little longer each time. It is so much easier to add a minute or two than to add a certain distance. But peace was still out of reach.

Eventually I realized that the park I ran in had a large network of hiking trails that roamed through the woods. I went there to run one day. I have been back many times since. Even now in the dead of winter I go at times. Maybe only once a week when there is a break in the weather and I can find the time, but I do go. I plan ahead for it and watch the weather reports to figure when a good day might be.

I like to think it happened on a cold fall evening with a light rain falling. I cursed myself for forgetting my MP3 player. I almost used that as my excuse to just go home and get warm. But I didn’t. Pride I guess. There was not another person in the 1900 acre park that evening.

Being a rainy fall day, most of the leaves were down. The ground was a soft, wet multi-colored carpet. No mud.

At this fall season of the woods’ life cycle, she was certainly different than the lush thick greens of summer. But there was more truth there. Almost like the woods was not hiding behind the cover of clothing now.  I could see things I had never noticed before. The landscape, my landscape, was more in focus. The woods were naked and unashamed. I was blessed to be in the middle of it.   

That evening my tempo quickly fell into a rhythm with the rain drumming on my waterproof jacket. I had forgotten my MP3 player only to realize that the rain had a much better tempo for my running abilities.

As the trail turned to parallel the river there was a softened crashing of twigs off to my right. I slowed and turned quickly coming to a stop. Twenty yards ahead, a full size doe jogged calmly across my path from right to left. She stopped in the trees to my left and turned and looked at me. I can’t be sure, but she might have bobbed her snout at me to continue on my run. It was my turn now.

I started back up with my jog. I watched over my shoulder and the doe stood there watching me until I was out of her sight, or she was out of my sight depending on perceptions. I finished that run as the dark was settling on the woods.  I was not fearful.  I was at peace.

That singular moment convinced me that I would find my peace in these woods. I would find peace in me. These days, when I go for a jog in the woods I am not concerned with how far or how fast I go. I am there for the moment and the calm that every moment there brings me. I am there for the feel of the trail and the roots and rocks that trip me. Two small waterfalls to stop and look at are a double bonus.

I am a different man when I return home. I would be lying to you if I said that it lasts all week or even just all day long. Life creeps back in. But I am able to hold onto a little piece of that peace throughout the day and the week until I can get back to my woods.

Consider stretching a little bit. Look for the tiniest gifts which we are given. Surely something will give you peace. Carry a piece of your peace with you. Keep it in your heart throughout the day. Remember that those you encounter may still be searching for their piece of peace. Smile to yourself knowing you have yours and then hold the door open for them.

Try approaching your life with this perception and watch what comes to you. Odds are, it was always there.

Oh, I did meet birthday goal this year.