Murdock Trial

Lessons from the trail: the dog, the cats, and the leash.

IMG_20141107_104326I couldn’t help but sing aloud, “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again,” as I drove up the street towards my beloved Murdock Canal Trail. You see, about 10 months ago I found myself really struggling with my running regimen. I felt like my bladder was just going to drop right out of my body. Shortly before I started struggling I found out that I was expecting baby Max and shortly after giving up during that first (and last) gruesome mile and turning back around to limp my sad self home, I ended up in the E.R. I had a prolapsed uterus and my doctor forbade me from running. Even walking long distances would not allowed for the duration of my pregnancy.

As many of you know, my trail-time is one of my most favorite things. I love being out in nature. I love the sunshine. I love the rain. I even love the snow. As I watch closely for all the little details in the world around me, I simultaneously dump all my cares out of my overloaded brain. One by one they are left on the gravel as I trample them under my feet headed for a lighter future. My trail-time not only makes me feel great physically, but without it I start to fall apart a little mentally.

So, earlier this week, when I was finally able to get back on the trail I was beyond ecstatic. Even with taking Max along in the stroller I was finally able to get the therapeutic benefit that I have been missing tremendously. [If you don’t understand what I am talking about, I double-dog dare you to find a quiet trail near you and spend time walking on it every day – make sure you let me know how it changes you because I promise it will.]

Okay, okay, on with the story as part of my series “lessons from the trail”. I feel like Henry David Thoreau in Walden when I write these stories. Nature is a powerful philosopher. So, on Monday, there I was, back on the trail again. I was multi-tasking at its finest, pushing Max in the stroller, supervising the dog on and off of the leash, listening to my tunes, and observing the world around me.

Why do I put the dog on AND off the leash you ask? I’m so glad you did ask, that’s what my story is all about. You see, our dog, Olive, is naughty. I have her partially trained, but she refuses to be fully broken. She reminds me of….well….me. Olive will run after whatever catches her attention and completely ignore my incessant calls. She especially loves birds and cats…probably much like all the other dogs. Another thing about Olive is that she only gets along with about 50% of other dogs that we encounter. If she doesn’t like the other dogs, she will go after them until she has their full submission to her dominance.

This doesn’t work out so well when the other dogs have the same personality. So, given her disobedience (not to mention the leash laws) I should really never let her off the leash, but, you see, she, like me, loves to roam free in the mountains. So, when no one is around I let her run and explore as long as she doesn’t go too far off the trail. As soon as I spot someone off in the distance (and before Olive has a chance to attack their dogs) I hurry and put her back on the leash until the others are safely past us. I also put her on the leash when small children are approaching or if I notice anything else that will cause her to run off like a doggy lunatic.

And there it was…something that would make Olive crazy…about 100 feet ahead of us, a cat was sunning right in the middle of the path. I hurried and grabbed Olive (who does well to get on the leash if she doesn’t detect anything of extra interest – lucky for me, my eyes seem to be better than hers) and walked on. I held her at a close distance and we marched right on by that cat without incident. Olive noticed the cat but didn’t yank my arm off to go after her. She just barked a few times and focused ahead.

And there was my lesson for the day. If I place myself on the end of that leash, I think that sometimes I also pass the test, as did Olive. I think if I am aware of the big picture and know that just shortly up the path there may be something else of better interest to me I don’t get all crazy. If I behave I will be let off the leash to get a close-up of what is best for me, which is probably not what I think is best for me. Because of the leash I allow myself to be tethered to (which for me is my faith and beliefs) I am freed from so many unnecessary distractions. The key though is that I have to be willing to be leashed so that I don’t run off before I have a chance to think things through. I also have to trust my maker and know that He will unleash me when I am ready and/or safe. It was a profound observation for me as I resist being controlled in any manner.

Then, just as I finished processing all of the leash metaphors in my own life, I noticed another cat. I hurried and put Olive on the leash again, hoping for the same success to support my observation. This time, however, I was disappointed. I braced myself as Olive took off, as usual, only to be thwarted by the yank of her collar on the leash. I never understand why dogs don’t learn!

I’ll leave you walking along with me on the trail trying to make sense of the second cat encounter. You can surely come up with your own comparisons, as did I, but I will give you this: I was instantly filled with gratitude for my maker who always stands with the leash, waiting for me to heed his calls instead of taking off after who knows what. He has a grand journey prepared for me and no matter how many times I allow myself to be distracted with my own ridiculous notions, He never lets go. And someday, in the very distant future, I am sure that I will be strong enough to not need a leash, until then, though, I will gladly tether myself to it.

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Lessons from the Trail: The Horse and the Pipeline

trust your guide

Last week I learned another lesson from the trail. Just like my last lesson, the experience lasted less than 30 seconds. Being out in God’s open air seems to heighten my spiritual sense. Everything seems to have symbolic meaning that points me towards my maker.

As I was passing this trail-head, (photo taken later) I noticed two horseback riders approaching this portion of tunnel.  The pipe pieces are found along the new Murdock Trail-heads as focal pieces of history. The trail is built atop of an old irrigation canal that has been piped and paved over and it’s fun to see the enormity of the pipeline underfoot.

Anyhow, the lead rider was trying his darnedest to lead his horse through the tunnel. The teeny tunnel is actually a shortcut to the bathrooms. If you don’t go through the tunnel, you have to follow the trail around the long way. The horse was having nothing to do with it. He kept violently swinging his head to the right as if to make his guide aware that he knew the better way.

But, he didn’t know the better way, he was just afraid to walk through the tunnel. He didn’t trust his guide.

I chuckled at the horse’s foolishness and marveled at the guide’s patience. As I drove off on my bike, never to know whether or not the horse would actually make it through the tunnel, I shook my head in shame a bit realizing that I do the same all too often. God tells me to go a certain direction and I can’t figure out how that direction can possibly be the best choice for me. I pridefully think that I can show God how to do it my way by violently throwing out my neck. I deny the real reason for my refusal: my fear. Yes, I’m a dumb stubborn mule and I often take the long way because I refuse to trust. Lucky for me, my guide has perfect patience.

Lessons from the Trail: The Mother Bird

I try to spend as much time as possible on a trail directly east of my house.
It is a beautiful place where I love to bike and run.
You’ve probably seen some of the Instagram photos from the trail that I’ve taken on my sidebar.
Since it’s completion a few months ago, Murdock Trail has quickly become one of my Holy Places.

murdock trail

In the past two weeks, while on the trail, I’ve had three very significant experiences that I want to write about. I expect I will have many more, so today I will start this “lessons from the trail” mini-series on my blog as a place to record these simple moments in time that have such a profound impact. In fact, for me, the impact is so significant that I usually bawl my eyes out and thank God for the message. Well, at least that is what has happened the last three times and I expect my reaction won’t change over time. When the whisperings hit straight to my heart, I usually suspect that God has something to do with it.


So, as you all know, lately I have been heavily focusing on my role at home and learning to find happiness and joy in my motherhood. Well, the other day, my lesson was magnificently focused on this journey. It was a small moment. It probably only lasted 25 seconds.

On a chain-link fence off to the side of a trail, I noticed a bunch of little finch-like birds. I couldn’t tell if they were just a really teeny species or if they were babies. The looked a lot like the ones above that I snatched off the internet. (I really would like to learn more about birds) As I was riding my bike towards home and watching the birds (there were about 5 or 6) playfully perching and hovering around the fence, out of nowhere, came a bigger bird. It was instantly apparent that the big bird must be their mother. She looked exactly like them and seemed to be at the very least communicating in some way with the young-in’s or at the most she was somehow corralling them. I couldn’t quite tell.

I kept observing and my eyes were drawn towards the mother. She looked haggard. Maybe she was molting, I wondered. Or maybe she was just a new mom and her wings were haphazard from all the time she spent in the nest with her babies? I kept thinking about the reasons the mother’s beauty was significantly less than her babies’ beauty.

Out of nowhere my answer came: She gave her beauty to her babies. She didn’t care what she looked like. Her eye was on her prize: her babies on the fence. She was happily observing them, watching out for danger, keeping them close. In the very least she was talking to them, in the most she was corralling them. Someday she would die, yet she would live on through those babies. Without the pressures and complications I as a human mother face, she seemed to possess the joy for which I’ve been looking.

With  my new insight I gained from pondering, that mother bird was instantly transformed into one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. As tears welled up in my eyes I realized that God was up in heaven somewhere looking down on me having as significant an experience with me as I was with the bird. He smiled (as I did with the bird) in pride at this haggard momma who just wants to learn to be happy with all that is required of her. I heard his voice directly to my heart, “Alice, know this to be true…you are a beautiful mother and there is nothing, I mean NOTHING, better than that.”