A Sliver of Light

Following this debilitating post-election week, I found myself aching for solitude and solace.

The autumn day is sunny and bright, with few white clouds slowly drifting across the pale blue sky. Below, sun rays brighten the dwindling yellow, orange, and browning leaves that remain on the trees. The slight breeze is tender, inviting me into the day to share what I know are exquisite delights that I cannot feel.

A bicycle rack has been strapped to my car much of the summer. My bike rolls easily through the basement door onto the grassy driveway to the car. A squeeze on each tire reveals a firmness that will not need extra air today. Good. I’m anxious to be on my way.

One hand firmly grasping the bar beneath the handlebars and the other beneath the seat, with my knees bent, I straighten my legs and elevate the bike to the rack. It’s heavy and sometimes I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to be independent with this particular task. It’s an important question for a woman in her seventh decade who lives alone and cherishes that solitude. And loves biking.

Soon, the Trek is securely in place, the helmet, gloves, and water bottle tucked in the front seat, and my car starts out on the twenty-five mile journey to Piney River. In all of Albemarle and Nelson Counties, Piney River is my favorite place to ride. It is off highway and thus safe from traffic on the narrow windy country roads in my area. The drive is pleasant as I pass by some of my favorite landmarks along the way—the antique shop; the yard with a front garden filled with brilliant red canna lilies; a favorite café, Basic Necessities.

Half an hour later, I reach the sharp turn that unveils the Piney River trailhead entrance on the left side of the road. I park, unload my bike and accessories for a ride, and soon  pedal over the concrete path onto the soft grassy path alongside the gently flowing river. In another lifetime, this path was the railroad track for the former Virginia Blue Ridge Railway that closed in 1981.

piney-river-entrance

As I leave the busy road behind and enter onto the six-mile hiking, biking, and horseback trail, I am quickly embraced by silence broken only by the gentle trickling of the river, occasional lovely birdsongs, and the whisper of my tires circling over dying fallen rust-colored leaves. My body relaxes and I become more aware of the sensations I always experience in this place that is sacred to me. As I pedal on, I savor the feel of bright sunshine warming my body, the muscles in my legs pushing the pedals of the serenity of the pastoral scenes everywhere I look as I travel on. A mile iint0 the ride, I pedal over a wooden bridge where the river then moves to my left.piney-river

I notice something dark on the trail ahead and, as I approach, see a black snake curled like a garden hose basking in the day’s heavenly warmth. We notice each other without alarm.

Piney Bridge.jpg

A few miles later my tires thump across another wooden bridge beneath which the river crosses to my right side now. Then I break out into  country, with a fifty-or-so-acre meadow on the river side and multiple trees on the other bank. Several former and at least one active farm border the trail now and in the next meadow several black cows dot the green pasture grass.

When I cross the third bridge, I remember the summer day a small pink pair of flip flops lay on the bridge edge. I looked around for the little person who wore them but no one was in the area. Ever Miss Marple seeking clues, I parked the bike and looked under the bridge where silence greeted me. I sent a thought of safety to the child and envisioned her playing happily along the trail, barefooted.

I ride next beneath a huge bridge supporting a large, noisy major highway above me and quickly pedal on until I return to the serene, sweet solitude ahead. In a little while, I’ve reached the end of the trail, apparently privately owned land behind the fence that stops me. Paused, grateful for this place and the feel of my body filled with increasingly pleasure, I sip some water, then turn around and begin to ride back. The occasional hikers and bikers I pass acknowledge my presence with a smile or a nod, silently conveying their gratefulness for their moments here with Mother Nature, as I am.

In awhile, I stop near a middle-aged couple who are sharing their granola bars with an orange tabby who approached them as they rested by at the river. We talk briefly about the beauty of the day, the sparkling loveliness of the river, and friendliness of the cat, then say good-bye. These contacts buoy the silent shadows of concern for the people of our country.

When, about an hour after starting out, I return to the trailhead entrance, I’m tired. On my best days, after resting briefly, I again ride the full trail round trip, tallying up 25 miles for the day. Other days, I ride until my body signals it’s time stop—like today, a low energy day. Reluctantly, I walk my bike out to the parking lot, remove my helmet and gloves, and prepare to leave for home. I don’t want to leave… my heart aches to remain here…. Yet as I drive back into the world, I slowly realize that today’s respite into the sacred refuge that is Piney River has ever-so-gently reminded me again that our world is embraced by a greater power than we. I gratefully open to that flicker of light slicing into the darkness that pervaded my soul three days ago.

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I grew there in so many ways and today I'm a long-time editor for the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal, as well as a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site, another unique place in cyberspace. Then, next year, I’ll again be honored to be program chair for our Stories from the Heart national conference in Austin, TX. I have so many loves: first, my three children: my son, Chip and daughter, Polly, both in Virginia; and my youngest daughter, Susan, in Florida, and also dear family and friends. I must also include my cats Hilary (20) and Button (5). Sometimes I foster cats and kittens for the Humane Society, but Button prefers me not to. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. Now, all these years later, I believe I've sliced through the layers to reach the heart of my story, and am presently working on the final revision of my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.
This entry was posted in Change, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Mother Nature, Mystery, Peacefulness, Simplicity. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to A Sliver of Light

  1. gwynnrogers says:

    I loved riding along with you. I could feel the warmth of the sunlight and hear the chirp of the birds. The solitude of the woods is fulfilling. Thank you. I loved reading about you and your life. I am very curious about your “True Stories from Real Women.” Can I find it on line? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      Thank you, Gwynn. True Words from Real Women is a 10-page section of Story Circle Network’s quarterly Journal that accepts life-stories from our members. The Journal is sent to all members as part of membership benefits. If you’d like to see one, I’ll mail you one of mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. gwynnrogers says:

    Now, there is a membership fee, right? I can’t afford it. Also, is Sheila Bender part of the Story Circle Network? I used to work for her husband, and I’m afraid I don’t have any respect for Sheila. I WOULD LOVE to see the Journal though.

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    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      Sheila is a member and an online teacher for SCN. I wouldn’t imagine your paths were to cross though, if you didn’t seek her out. Gwen, we have scholarship memberships and I would be honored to sponsor you for a scholarship so you could try us out for a year and then you could decide if you gain skills and rich support there. If you’d like to try, just say the word. Okay?

      Liked by 1 person

      • gwynnrogers says:

        You have read some of my family stories and writing, correct? Am I writing in the direction that you are teaching? If my writing fits with the style that you all are writing, I would LOVE to be part of your group. I also need a kick in the butt to get writing again. Mostly, I have been writing about my experiences of caregiving for my husband. I’ll message you. Thank you for your kindness!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mary Jo Doig says:

        I look forward to hearing from you… and I strongly encourage you to consider joining an online writing group. You will be encouraged, supported, and gain confidence in your writing, which is very good life-writing, Gwynn. Meanwhile, I’ll contact our Executive Director about a scholarship. Heart, Mary Jo

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  3. Thank you for taking us on this joyous and serene drive through nature. Magnificent way to wind down after this stressful week.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary Jo, this post is very healing. A vicarious nature excursion for your readers. Wonderful pictures. Thank you, thank you!

    Like

  5. Beautiful, Mary Jo. Thank you.

    Like

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